My upcoming birthday adventure

Ohmygosh I’m going backpacking!!

Tomorrow is my birthday, and oh, I dunno, about two or three years ago, I decided I’d plan a backpacking trip to celebrate this one. Or, in more honest terms, use my birthday as an excuse to plan an epic backpacking trip. There’s no significance to it this year, I’m turning 38. Who cares. But the past two years wouldn’t have worked out for one reason or another, so this was just the next one in line. So Adam and I tentatively set aside a couple of weeks around my birthday in 2017 so I could plan something. 

I decided on a trail that’s been on my list for a while. Well, again, to be honest, I think every (and any) trail is on my list, but this one just happens to be pretty high up there. It’s the Wonderland Trail. 

The Wonderland Trail is in Mt. Ranier National Park in Washington State and circumnavigates Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft). So to be clear, I won’t be climbing or summiting the mountain (or technically, volcano), but I’ll be hiking 93 miles around the base of it. I’ve seen photos and they’re unbelievably gorgeous, and the elevation gain is impressive – cumulatively hitting 22,000 feet gain and loss. Sounds tough and pretty, it’s a thru-hike that’s only 93 miles and I can do it within a reasonable amount of vacation time. Perfect! Tough and pretty is my favorite combo! I plan to hike it in 9 days. I think I could do it in less, but I’ve made a couple of goals for this hike, and stretching it out to nine days just made sense. 

Goal #1: Backpack it solo. I was originally going to drag my mom and dad along with me, but there is actually a family reunion of sorts happening in California that they are going to instead (which I sadly had to decide against – I’ve had this trip on the calendar for a long time, and it’s an opportunity I couldn’t stomach to pass up.) So solo it is. I’ve been wanting to do more solo trips to test myself, anyway. We’ll see how this goes. I honestly think I enjoy hiking with friends more. I worry I’ll get lonely, or freaked out in my tent at night. But, this is why I’m doing it. To challenge myself. 

Training hikes! So fun!

Goal #2: Take my time. Instead of planning to hike the whole thing in 5 or 6 days, which I’m sure I could do if I wanted to, I decided to stretch it out to nine and try to take my time. You know, take the climbs nice and easy, stop in meadows and sit while I eat a snack, soak my feet in streams, take tons of photos (obviously), play with marmots… Things like that. 

I will also stop to pick fresh berries if I find any. Of course!

Goal #3: Eat keto. This was kind of a newer addition as I’ve adapted the ketogenic way of eating a couple of months ago. I’ve gotten my body to make abundant ketones pretty easily and using fat and these ketones for fuel instead of sugar. So my hope is that I’ll have longer sustained energy instead of the short rushes I used to get from eating a Hostess fruit pie, then crash and need more processed sugar/junk to keep going (and also suffer from GI issues). I also think I’ll be able to carry less because the foods I now eat are so much more calorie/nutrient dense than the old junk I used to bring along. But I’ll probably bring way too much food anyway, because that’s what I do best! 

Just a few keto-friendly snacks I’ll be bringing along. It’s all such yummy food!

So my plan to hike the Wonderland Trail is still tentative, though. In March I worked really hard studying maps, pouring over pre-set suggested itineraries and mileage charts and eventually came up with a custom itinerary that I was really happy with. I even went as far to plan out my resupplies (there will be two) and what I’d include in each box. I chose to start in a not-so-popular starting spot (it’s one big loop, so you can really start at any point on the loop), I chose to hike counter-clockwise, which is apparently more difficult, therefore less popular, and I chose to start on a weekday instead of a weekend. I figured this would help my chances at getting a permit. 

The permit process seems pretty fair, considering they receive thousands of requests each year. In fact, this year they received a record whopping 5,900 permit requests!  2,500 of those (including my one little, itty, bitty request) were for the full 93-mile thru-hiker. And how many can they usually accommodate? 450. So it’s not a huge surprise I was denied my request for a permit this year. The way they do it is allow you to submit a request between March 15 and April 1 – any time in that window, then they are chosen at random once that window closes. So you don’t have to rush to the computer first thing on the morning of March 15 to try to be the first in line. So that was nice. I still got mine in pretty early, as it was ready to roll, but I just wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Bummer. 

Thankfully there’s still hope. They save 30% of their yearly permits for walk-ups. This means I can show up at a ranger station a day or two before I’d like to start my trip and work with a ranger to come up with an itinerary that’ll satisfy me. So I’m going to give it a shot. I’ve got the time off already, it’s a trail I’ve wanted to do forever, I’ve planned it all out already, so I might at well just head there and see if I can get on the trail. I’m going to try to be flexible, but if I can’t work out something I’m happy with, I’m not going to settle, either. I’ll save it for another time and explore Glacier National Park instead – or something. But I have pretty high hopes something will work out. In the end, whatever happens, it’s going to be fun. 

Also! As much as I’m looking forward to taking a solo backpacking adventure, one of the big parts of this vacation is the trip out there and back. Adam and I decided to take our Subaru (PJ2) on the trip, too. So we’ll be driving there and back, and I am looking forward to the road trip with Adam just as much as the hiking. We love road tripping. So, so much. Even though we drive for a living, jumping into our own vehicle, being on our own time line, not having to pull into weigh stations, clock every move into an electronic log and worry about truck routes is going to be such a nice break! We’re going to feel so free. Stop where and when we want. We plan to camp, explore, eat, relax, and enjoy some scenery from a little lower perspective. 

Get ready, PJ2! You get to see some mountains!

So, hey! I’m going on a backpacking trip! I’m trying to be all giddy and super excited, but it’s a little dampened by the fact that it’s not set in stone because I don’t yet have a permit, and because I’m going solo, so I don’t have a fellow backpacking buddy to bounce the giddiness back and forth with. That’s one of the downfalls of a solo trip, but I’m pretty determined to try this out. Yeah, it’s definitely still really exciting, but just a little more mellow of an excitement. And… *sigh*… It’s not like a 2,000-mile-plus trail or anything. My favorite, of course. But some day. Some day again, I will hike a really long trail. Or several, hopefully. But for now, I’m going to be happy with what I can do with my current circumstances. And hey. This ain’t half bad, ya know!? 

As for this here bloggity-blog, I plan to write each day like I have on previous long hikes I’ve done (American Discovery Trail 2006Tahoe Rim Trail 2009Pacific Crest Trail 2013Knobstone Trail 2015), but I probably won’t be posting them until I’m done with the trip. Unless I miraculously have some internet coverage out there (which I doubt I will, and honestly might not care to check). I also just bought an almost 1-pound battery charger for my phone since I use it for journaling/writing and as a camera, so hopefully I at least have enough battery juice to get me through the nine days without needing an outlet. 

Hopefully I’ll be able to post my gear list and food choices for the trip before I head out, but I can’t make any promises, as I’ve found out how much less time I have lately as a trucker to blog. I knew I’d have limited time with this line of work, but it’s even less than I’d imagined, so it can be really tough to keep this baby updated. I have so much I’d like to write, it’s just really hard to find the time (every single time I post a blog, I guarantee you it’s cutting into my sleeping hours.) So I’ll try. I really, really want to. I want to share those things! Whether it’s to help you folks that read this stuff and want to go on a similar adventure, hopefully learn a couple of things (maybe I’ll talk more about peeing standing up! I can do it now!), or maybe you’d like to try keto backpacking, or see if I totally bonk from it – or if it’s just for me simply to organize and basically make another checklist of things I don’t want to forget! Haha! 

So, keep an eye out for future posts. I plan to post lots of photos with my blog entries of the hike, as I usually do, and WordPress doesn’t seem to make that super easy, so that’ll take some time. But that record of my trip is not something I’m willing to let go of. As I’ve mentioned in the past, a lot of the reason I write this blog is for my own memory bank, because my physical brain memory bank is not so good. So these blog entries can bring me back and help me remember. So you can count on those! 

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for me that I can get a decent walk-up permit/itinerary! And maybe that I can still climb and hike in elevation and not die. It’s been a while! 

And a new, funky pair of sunglasses passed gear testing during a training hike. :)

 —

Tonight I love my July birthday. I’ve always loved that it’s right in the middle of summer when it’s hot, sunny and well, summery. It makes me happy. :) 

I plan to hike some of the trail in these bad boys, as well as use them for camp shoes.

My other hiking shoe get-up.

Map of the Wonderland Trail.

My looong quest for shoes

I’m a girl, and I love shoes. Okay? I said it. I wish I had room for like eight pairs so I could choose which ones I wanted to run in that day. 

Okay, admittedly, my shoe love is for running/hiking shoes. I couldn’t care less for heels, strappy numbers, and any of the other uncomfortable, too-narrow, restricting, blister-inducing, girly fancy shoes out there. Although, I do admire how they might look on other people – and I have a load of respect and maybe a little hidden jealousy for those of you with the fashion sense to pull them off. Seriously, I’ve tried, and it’s something I’m *totally* comfortable with giving up on. 

Anyway! 

First, a little disclaimer – this is my experience with trying to find a shoe (or ten). And I realize now that I maybe have weirdly-shaped feet. So please don’t write off any of these brands/styles listed below just because they didn’t work for me. They were all great quality, amazing shoes. I would recommend any of them to my closest friends. You just gotta try them and find one that fits your foot. I am especially partial to the Altra Lone Peak (as you’ll see), so if they fit you? Let’s just say I’m jealous, but genuinely happy for you. Because they rock. 

This is the Lone Peak 2.5s in the snow, which was great – and I loved this color!

It all started when I found the perfect shoe, oh, a couple of years ago I think. It’s the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 specifically. It was wide in the toe box, letting my toes spread out, NOT go numb, feel good, and just be happy little toes. The shoes were really lightweight. They were zero drop (which means there’s no drop from the heel of the shoe to the front of the shoe – there can be cushion till the cows come home, but it’s still possible to have no drop from the heel to the forefoot. I prefer less cushion, but that’s me. Most shoes have some sort of drop, with varying cushion). I prefer zero drop because it feels more natural to me – like the way our feet would work on their own. Remember, I’m not a fan of heels. At all. I mean, talk about drop! No thanks! The Lone Peak 2.5 did have a little cushion, but not too much. I could still feel the surface I was running on a little bit. I enjoy that connection when I’m running or hiking. I guess you could call me a minimalist. Or at least a wannabe. (I used to run in Vibram Fivefingers, so this is not new to me.) 

So anyway, they were the perfect shoe. I wore them hiking, backpacking, trail running, and even road running – they’re technically a trail shoe, but they worked for everything – which is one of the reason I loved them SO much. Having one pair of shoes works great for me, too. I live out of a semi truck, so the space to store a thousand pairs of shoes doesn’t exist. The less stuff I have the better. 

But guess what? Shoes wear out. Mine blow out – always on the inside where my big toe meets the foot. That bony part sticks out on my feet, making them wide (which is why I loved Altra’s large toe box), and if those bony parts are pressed in on from a shoe, my toes go numb and it’s really uncomfortable when I’m trying to hike 20 miles. I need that toe box, man. (Do I have bunions? Maybe the early stages, I dunno.) 

When my last pair blew out, as they do, I was excited to get a new pair because, well, I wasn’t crazy about the color I currently had. Remember – I’m still a girl, and I like colorful things. (Sidenote: I’ve never been a fan of pink, like my whole life, but it’s recently started to grow on me. Mostly hot, bright pink, though. Not the pastel-y baby-pink. That’s getting too girly.) 

My 2nd pair of Lone Peak 2.5s. Wasn’t crazy about the grey, though. But also didn’t care. So perfect comfy-wise.

I wanted something bright. I immediately and excitedly ordered the new version of Altra’s Lone Peak – the 3.0. I got them in the most obnoxiously bright color they came in – bright pink with orange and black accents. They looked so cool. I got two sizes right away because several, and I mean a LOT, of reviews said they ran a little narrower than the 2.5s. For some reason, I ignored the little red flag waving frantically in my mind when I read these reviews. I think I was just so excited for a new pair of shoes and seriously thought, “Nah. They’ll fit me.” Anyway, I got two sizes so I could try them both and return the one that didn’t fit the best. 

Altra Lone Peak 3.0 – aren’t they so awesome and fun!? (image lifted from the interwebs.)

I tried them on, went, “aaah, new shoes all cushiony and lovely,” and returned the larger size, keeping the the original size I’ve always worn. Yeah, they felt a little tighter in the toe than my last pair, but they looked so cool. And they were my trusty Lone Peaks. A couple days later I went for about a two-mile walk with Adam and thought I’d wear them just to get a feel for them. About 10 minutes into the walk my toes were numb. I can’t even tell you how sad I was. I knew right then I was going to have to return them. This wasn’t going to work. 

So I did return them, and now I was running in my work shoe – which was a clearance shoe from REI. It’s a brand I’ve gotten before on clearance, for work. They also have a pretty wide toe box – Topo shoes. These have a 3mm drop, so they weren’t ideal, and if I knew I’d be running and especially hiking in them, I’d have at least ordered a half or full size up. But I was stuck with these for now. They were okay. I was mostly road running at the time anyway. And besides… It wouldn’t take long to find the right shoe… Right? Huh! 

Work shoe I got on clearance – Topo Magnifly

So the search for the perfect runner-up shoe to the Lone Peak 2.5 began (I searched for the now outdated 2.5s on the interwebs to no avail. Unless I wanted to squeeze into a size 6. But that kinda defeats the whole purpose.) 

I ordered and returned so many shoes. At one time I think I had six shoeboxes in our car as I tried them out, ruled them out, and eventually returned them. I became a regular at the UPS store. It was kind of rediculous, was taking up a lot of precious space (and time), and driving me completely mad. I honestly don’t think I like shoes as much after this experience, which I’ll talk about in a minute. 

I tried the Altra Superior in two sizes, and a really pretty blue that I loved – they creased funny in the front and pressed in on the tops of my toes. Back they went. 

Altra Superior – I loved the look of these, too! (image lifted from the interwebs.)

Then came the Altra Impulse. These were a road-specific shoe, as I realized I had to sadly give up on finding an all-in-one shoe. I was also trying SO hard to stay loyal to the brand I fell so damn hard for. But honestly, I was happy these didn’t fit me. They looked awesome online, but when I put them on my feet, I think they were the ugliest shoe I’ve ever tried on – but trust me – had they fit like my Lone Peak 2.5s I wouldn’t have had a second thought – I’d have hugged them and squeezed them and called them George. And I’d have run in them until they, too, blew out. 

Altra Impulse – they look so cool online! (image lifted from the interwebs.)

Next was the Altra Escalante. Again in two sizes. At first I thought they were so ugly, but they were a nice, obnoxious pinkish-purple color, which I sorta dug. But the texture – it kind of looked like a winter sweater – I know – weird. And I think it’s sweater-like texture got to me, because they felt really warm on my feet, too – but I’m sure it was just my imagination. This one was actually pretty comfortable and the ugliness of them was really growing on me. So far, not perfect, but the closest I could get. I still needed a shoe for trails, though. 

Altra Escalante – the sweater shoe! These ones grew on me.

I moved on to Topos. This is that other brand I’ve only gotten on clearance for a comfy work shoe. I ordered the Topo Terraventure because it had good reviews from thru-hikers. I got them a size up and they felt like clouds on my feet. Again, they weren’t perfect, as they had that 3mm drop, but I kept these as my hiking and backpacking shoe. I still have to try them trail running, but they seem to do well for hiking. I still have them as I write this, and it’s now too late to return them, so they are now a permanent addition to my newly acquired collection of shoes. Happily, might I add. They really are very comfy. This will be my main shoe for my next big hike. (And they’re green, which is my favorite color, so…) 

Topo Terraventure – seen here during a hike with my dirty girl gaiters.

Then I went and ordered a new brand of shoe that claimed to have a wide toe box and zero drop – the Xero Prio. Xero currently only makes one full-coverage shoe-style shoe, meaning, not a sandal, which is what they focus on. Sandals for running and hiking – so it’s a very minimalist company, which totally appealed to me and gave me hope. And I almost kept these. They really felt very minimal. I was kinda getting somewhere! (By the way, I might revisit this company for a runner if Altra never goes back to their original toe box.)  

Xero Prio – really nice shoe – tied as runner-up with the Altra Escalante. (image lifted from the interwebs.)

So what did I end up with? The Topo ST-2. It is a zero-drop shoe, is pretty wide in the toe, they’re nice and lightweight and fits comfortably. It came down to the Altra Escalante (the sweater shoe), the Xero Prio and this one. When I put this one on it felt like a sock the way it’s thin, stretchy heel wrapped around the back of my foot, and I was so sick of trying shoes and trying to decide that I finally just said, “this is the shoe and that’s that.” Oh, did I mention they’re bright pink? Bonus. (I ordered too soon for the safety green version, or I might’ve gotten them instead… Because green!) 

Topo ST-2 – my final choice for my running shoe. And I’m pretty proud of my custom lace-job to keep the tongue from sliding to the side. And… They’re SO bright!

I thought my struggle was over, or so I thought. I still needed, er, wanted, a summer sandal. I was set on Chocos because I have a friend that thru-hiked the PCT in Chocos (and had to use super glue on foot cracks, which is a whole badass story in itself, but I digress). Chocos also looked cool and sporty, and I could take a short hike in them if I wanted. I went to REI and bought a pair. I wasn’t totally crazy about the color, and they fit a little weird, especially around my stupid big toe bone-bunion thingie. But the salesperson kept telling me how awesome the straps can move around for a custom fit, and it takes some practice to get the hang of it.  

I put them on again that night, messed around with the straps and just didn’t like them. I returned them the next day and ordered a different pair online with thicker straps and a color I really loved.  

When I got my new pair I liked them. I loved the look – fashionable and sporty. And orange. I really wanted orange for some reason. But the way the strap wrapped around my toe and toe bump was still a little weird, but tolerable. Then I walked for a couple of miles in them. What was I thinking? Seriously. They have a heavy sole and a high arch. Dangit, one of these days I’ll learn to think more. Back they went. And here we go again! (Don’t worry, this is a MUCH shorter story than the shoe story.) 

Choco sandals – I still love the look of these, a lot. But they just didn’t work on my weird feet.

I went online, did some research, read a lot of reviews, compared, went back and forth, and finally decided to take a chance on a little company out of California called Bedrock. I ordered the Cairn style – in orange – and when I first put them on I was in love. Remember when I said I might be sick of shoes after that whole shoe-finding experience? Well, I might just go straight-up sandal as an all-purpose shoe. They are so minimalist. Thin, tough Vibram sole. Three points of adjustment for fit. And they’re a thong-style so my toes can splay all day, and that weird toe bone? It’s free! 

I wore them for a week of camping, and didn’t want to take them off. I even wore them with my trusty Injinji toe socks in the evenings when it got cool out (yes, I wear socks with sandals – judge if you want – I’m about comfort, man). Oh, and I loved the way they looked, too. Bonus. 

Bedrock Cairn – winner winner chicken dinner!

I ran 3 miles on a paved trail with them. I was a little nervous about using them for running and hiking, but I couldn’t help myself – I had to experiment! It was fine! I didn’t trip or anything. In fact, they felt great! I’d have to gradually keep adding miles to get my feet used to running longer distances in them, but this test was so promising. Then I went crazy and did an 11-mile training hike with my pack for my upcoming Wonderland Trail trip – in the Bedrock sandals. It was pushing it, for sure. But they performed great! I did get a little foot fatigue and a hot spot on my heel at about 8 miles in, but seriously? My first time ever, hiking in sandals, and I barely noticed them until mile 8!? So much potential! (Hmm, can I please find a way to wear these in the winter?) Oh, and during that hike, I didn’t stub my toe at all! That was definitely a concern. However, I did scrape my toes with sticks a few times, which I figure is something I’ll have to get used to if I decide to transition to sandal hiking and trail running.  

One of my other big worries was the toe thong strap. I’ve always had a little trouble with these on flip-flops that I’ve gotten in the past, as in they hurt my big toe crotch pretty hard. But however Bedrock designed these suckers, they did it perfect. So comfy. I barely noticed it! Win! I might actually order another pair of these. I love them that much! (And they were about $40 cheaper than the Chocos.) Just get a pair. You’ll see. 

Bedrock Cairn – I’M IN LOVE WITH THESE SANDALS! Want more!

The end result, aka my new shoe collection: 

Work: Topo Magnifly (older model) 

Hiker: Topo Terraventure 

Runner: Topo ST-2 

Sandal: Bedrock Cairn 

I’m happy with these selections, but if Altra ever goes back to that same toe box as the Lone Peak 2.5s… Well… I’ll definitely try them out! 


Tonight I love my Bedrock sandals. I wish I could wear them for work, though! Not quite a trucker’s shoe. Darnit.

Broken

Broken again. Sorry if this feels like such a sob story. No wait, I’m not sorry. This is my therapy. I need to remind myself sometimes, that putting these feelings into written words are for me. I’m not looking for sympathy, advice, attention… I just want to vent. And I’m trying to make this feel like a safe place for that. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. It wouldn’t offend me one bit. I’d understand. 

I pulled off the highway at a rest area, stepped out from my truck’s recycled, temperature-controlled stuffy air and quickly realized that it was much cooler outside. I usually pay attention to this, but I didn’t today. The coolness felt good on my skin. It wasn’t until that moment I realized I’d had it set too warm inside the truck. I took in a deep breath of the outside air as I sauntered to the restroom. I smelled trees and sage and fresh air. It smelled amazing. Out of nowhere, my eyes welled with tears and I nearly cried. I’d already cried when the sun came up this morning. I was finding so much comfort in the heaviness of the dark that I didn’t want day to arrive. I admired the pastel colors of the lightening sky, but just cried. I didn’t wipe the tears away – I wanted to feel the gentle tickle as they rolled down my cheeks. I needed something to feel and focus on, and that’s all I felt I had in that moment.  

It’s depression, I thought. Dammit. These small things, like sunrises and the fresh smell of Montana air usually bring me joy and are a reason I love being a truck driver. But not today. Today, for no reason, they just made me cry. My head felt heavy on my shoulders as I realized this depression was settling in again. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to fight this, but I knew I had to find a way to stop it before I fell too deeply back into its vicious cycle.  

I’m just broken. I stayed as strong as I could, but one thing after another kept piling up, and once again, I broke. Adam broke, too. Both of us – at the same time. This happened last year around this time, and it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t so pleasant this time, either. In normal circumstances, a small food container that I put into a high cabinet in the truck falling out and hitting Adam wouldn’t phase us too much. But with all the things that have been going wrong over the past month – the bigger things – that we’d been working so hard to push through piling up, we lost it. Because a food container fell. Adam reacted how he reacts when he breaks. He stepped out of the truck with our giant trucker atlas and began tearing it to shreds in the lot of our shipper. I retreated to the bunk wailing, uncontrollably crying and hyperventilating until my hands shook and my legs felt like noodles. Then Adam got back in the truck, tossed the remnants of our atlas on the floor, grabbed me, and we hugged. Sometimes you can only take so much, and the teeniest, tiniest, stupid thing puts you over the edge. Enter small food storage container.  

A few weeks ago we requested an unplanned week off because we anticipated this breakdown. We felt it coming. Thank goodness we have that time coming up – it’s what’s keeping us going right now, I think. It’s a hope that we can cling to – we might have a little control over that time. We hope. But hope is usually what gets us in trouble, so I don’t know. I think we’re feeling apprehensive about, well, just about everything. Especially hope.  

So now what? I don’t know… When I break down like this, it always seems to trigger my flight response. I seriously look off into the trees I pass by at 60mph all day long, wondering if I could just park this stupid truck and start walking off into the forest. Disappear. I wonder how far I’d get? Could I be the next Everett Ruess? Please? Could I be so fortunate?  

So naturally, my responsibilities overrode all my daydreams of running off into the hills, and I just continued to drive. But my mind didn’t stop trying to come up with a solution to fix my broken self. The only thing that will work, I think to myself, is a long hike. I mean, this got pretty bad – I seriously entertained the thought of quitting – I don’t know what we’d do or where we’d go, but I just wanted to give up. Maybe even with no notice. Right there. Just run.  

After a 600-mile, 12-hour day of working, driving, thinking, and struggling, I decided I’d hold out for my summer hiking trip. Right now, I need a longer hike – a thru hike – one where I really live in nature for an extended period of time until I feel that unique, particular freedom one acquires during a thru-hike. Then, and only then, would I feel repaired. Cured. Unbroken. But… Responsibilities. Plans. Goals. Life. It’s all crap that gets in the way of the therapy I truly need to lift my soul and find that shine of happiness that comes from deep within.  

So anyway, I decided I’d hold out for my summer hiking trip – it’s only two weeks long, but I’ll see if that will be enough time to patch me up and hold me together enough to endure another year. And if not, I guess we’ll have to reevaluate our situation – a change of some sort might be needed. I have no idea what that could be right now, but I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  

For now, it’s Adam and I accepting each other’s reactions to our situation and just letting them be okay, and just holding each other through it all. I don’t know how I could live through this life without this partnership and this love. Outside of the inner chaos of our world right now, at least we’ve got that. Love.  

F*#@ you, world. You can’t take that away.

Tonight I love my middle finger. 

A near rollover, video-style. 

When I started truck driving, I kinda thought I’d see more car accidents. Not that I wanted to, of course, but I just figured with the large amount of time I’d be spending on the road, it seemed as though my chances were much greater for witnessing more crashes. But I haven’t, really. I usually show up to most wrecks after emergency vehicles have already arrived and things are being taken care of. I’ve driven past a few that had JUST happened, but other witnesses were already assisting, emergency vehicles were on the way, and since I didn’t see any of it happen or wasn’t involved, I’d just slow way down, pay attention to the road and drive on.  

I did witness one very minor accident in Chicago where a car lost control and side-swiped another car. They both pulled off to the shoulder, and since I witnessed it and knew I’d have footage on my dash cam, I pulled over – Adam was up with me, so he jumped out right away to make sure both drivers were okay. They were fine and already calling the authorities. We ended up moving on.  

But recently I got really, REALLY close to witnessing what would have been a terrible rollover. It was a couple of weeks ago. It was about 3:20am and I was cruising along the I-694 bypass in Minneapolis. I was driving 60mph, which was the speed limit along that stretch, and noticed a vehicle coming up alongside my truck pretty fast on the left, passing me. Then I saw his lights get a little too close for comfort, so I reacted by slowing down and moving onto the shoulder a little bit. Even with slowing down and moving over he still almost clipped my front end as he cut in front of me.  

I kept an eye on him after he passed, and things got crazy shortly thereafter. Watch the video I pulled from our dash cam! You may want to pull it up full-screen, and wait at the end – I zoom in and replay it in slow-motion. 

 

After he passed me, I watched him swerve around, and then he started fishtailing. At first, it was really short, tight fishtailing. I slowed down again, and that’s when he really started to swing back and forth.  

It’s amazing how many thoughts can run through your head in such a short amount of time. This same week, I came close to hitting a deer. He started walking out in front of me, and I started braking, but I had to strategically brake so I didn’t lose control of the truck. I also happened to be changing lanes after passing by a weigh station, so I was also making sure I kept my line of travel and didn’t swerve. It was raining, so the roads were wet. All these things were processing in my mind, and on top of those decisions going on, I clearly remember thinking, “I’m going to hit this deer. There’s no other traffic around me. There’s a good shoulder here I can pull off on. I’ll have to get out and check out the damage it caused. Then I’ll have to call safety…” And just then, the deer looked up at me and ran. I missed him by what seemed like inches. After my heart rate slowed down a little bit, I still couldn’t believe that I was already in action-mode, taking care of business. It was like two seconds! 

So as this driver in the video started to fishtail, I was already throwing on my four-ways and pulling off to the shoulder because I was certain I’d be calling 911 to report an accident while running out to check on the driver. I was scared.  

I remember saying over and over as it was happening, “Oh God, Oh God.” Adam had just gone to bed, and he felt me slow down and move over, and then he heard my panicked-sounding chant along with the pickup driver’s squeeling tires. He asked if everything was okay, and I just said, “not really” and continued to explain to him what I just saw.  

I tried to get the vehicle’s license plate number, but he was too far ahead by then – he hadn’t stopped! When he finally did stop, he pulled into an off-ramp and drove up onto the curb. Another car also saw what happened, and they pulled off behind him. I was thankful someone else saw it and was able to pull over, because at that point there was no longer a safe place for me to pull over.  

I was still moving slowly with my emergency flashers on, and just as I was approaching where he nearly crashed, I looked in my mirror and saw a police car come flying down the on ramp behind me with his lights on! I thought, “great! He saw it all happen, and he’ll check on this driver!” Then he flew right past the whole situation. Obviously he missed it and was off on some other call.  

It was crazy, and one of the scarier things I’ve seen while on the road. I’m so very thankful he somehow – miraculously – kept that pickup under control. I don’t know what happened. Given the time of night, my first assumption was that he was drunk, but it could’ve been a health issue – a seizure, a heart attack -or  maybe even a mechanical issue with his vehicle or something. But… It’s hard not to jump to the conclusion that this was alcohol and/or drug related. But who knows. Either way, it’s a good reminder – don’t drink and drive, people! 

All I can say is this dude got damn lucky. That, or he’s a Hollywood stunt driver. But I’m leaning towards the luck theory.  


Tonight I love designated drivers. If you can’t find one, be one. :)

Dreams create motivation to plan.

This is the scene that caught me today.

I drove along I-40 through Arizona this morning, watching my surroundings slowly come into view below a dark pastel-gradiated sky from the blackness of night above to a rich orange where it met the horizon. The miles flew past. As I left them behind, the more the sky lit up and the warmer the desert sage, sand and distant mountains appeared. I found myself daydreaming about losing myself in that scene – the one right outside my truck window. I’ve worked on lessening my daydreams like this one – not because I want to, because they oftentimes keep me going – but because they can hurt. I mean, to be completely honest with you, it’s literally made me cry at times. Sometimes I want it so bad – to throw a backpack on and just disappear into that sage brush, heading for those mountains – that I’ll just cry. It’s an emotion that’s not really a bad one just because it brings tears to the surface – I feel fortunate to have them. I have them because I’ve had experiences and adventures that have lit that undying spark in me, and now that spark is easily triggered to ignition by, sometimes, a simple, perfect scene. Like this one. It strikes in just the right way. This time I held back the tears, but the feelings were all there. I could smell the sage, feel the sand shift under each step and the cool morning breeze brush against my cheeks. And the best part? The overwhelmingly beautiful sense of freedom that is impossible to describe. It came over me like a wave, but quickly subsided. There’s only one way to hold on to that magic, and that is to get lost and live in a long walk. 

Another Arizona scene through a truck window. Mountains be keepin’ me wantin’.

My current situation is enjoying a team truck driving career with Adam, whittling away at student loan debt and having a fun time not having to live paycheck to paycheck for the first time ever. But this lifestyle doesn’t really lend itself to extravagant, lovely, super-long, amazing thru-hikes. And as much as I miss it, as often as it can hurt to dream about (in such a good way), and how badly I want to run off and just frickin’ do it while ignoring all consequences – it’s just that (for now) – a dream. 

I’ve had dreams before, though. To hike across the country. To run a marathon. To finish the Frozen Otter. To be free of credit card debt. To thru-hike the PCT. And guess what? Dreams create motivation to plan. And those dreams I just listed? They all came to life. So I’ll never stop. They’ll eventually happen if I keep it alive long enough. 

So… Now what, then? Well, a compromise. I can’t run off for six months for a long thru-hike, but I can take time off for a shorter one. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. All my daydreaming is motivating me to start planning my next backpacking trip. It’ll be this summer. Adam and I will road trip in our PJ2, the Subie, and enjoy our time together. Then I’ll hike for several days and we’ll road trip back home. 

Where? 

The Wonderland Trail. A 93-mile loop that circumnavigates Mt. Ranier in Washington state. This trail has been high on my wish list for years, and the time is now. Adam is going to help me make it happen and be a part of it, too. What else could I ask for!? 

So with a backpacking trip in the works, I can drive past these beautiful mountains, prairies, deserts, and even cross over some long trails (I swear I can feel a pull when I drive past them!), without feeling too much sadness and want. It’s just enough to make me experience that love, that heartbreak, that want – and smile. I think that’s why I was able to hold back the tears today. 

But seriously, I still want to just frickin’ do it! But I won’t. Maybe. 

Went for a run and never came back. But I did. This time.

Tonight I love blueberries. They were the last thing I ate today, and they were amazing. 

The Frozen Otter – my 2017 race report

I did it! 

I’m officially a two-time finisher! I first became one of the “Frozen Few” in 2010 (which you can read about here), but I’ve always wanted to do it again. This was my year. What a great race. I mean, I had a really good day. And I’m going to talk all about it here. 

Since it’s going to be a long one, this is how it’ll look – it’ll be in three parts. First I’ll include my stats, which are my times, pace, and miles between checkpoints – all the number-y stuff. If you want to skip over all those itty-bitty details, scroll down to the second part – the race report. That’s where I’ll jabber on about the day, how I felt and how many times I pooped. No, really. You’ll be shocked. Then third, after the race report I’ll list the gear and clothing I used/wore. Because I know some people (like me) are gear junkies and dig that sorta thing. Stuff worked for me this year, so… I need to remember. And share! So here goes… 

STATS

(I based mileage for these stats on the Kettle Moraine North Unit mileage chart, which can be found online. This totals 63.32 miles, whereas the GPS on my Garmin tracked me at just a little over 65 miles. But to make the breakdown between checkpoints easier on my brain, I used the chart.)

Total miles: 63.32

Total time: 22 hours, 30 minutes

Overall pace: 21:19/mile

Overall elevation gain (from my Garmin): 8,602 feet

Calories burned: 9,896

113 racers, 60 official finishers, 26 “Frozen Few” finishers. 

I placed 20th overall, and 2nd in my gender (only 3 ladies went the full 64 this year, including a 52-year old and a 17-year old! Age is just a number, peeps!) 

Start (10am) – Butler Lake (CP1):

7.43 miles / 2h 07min / 17:05 pace

In 12:07pm / Out 12:12 pm (5 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP1) – Greenbush (CP2):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 2:34pm / Out 2:46pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP2) – Hwy P (CP3):

7.09 miles / 2h 02min / 17:12 pace

In 4:48pm / Out 5:00pm (10min break) 

Hwy P (CP3) – Greenbush (CP4):

7.09 miles / 2h 21min / 19:53pace

In 7:21pm / Out 7:36pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP4) – Butler Lake (CP5):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 9:58pm / Out 10:30pm (32 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP5) – Mauthe Lake (CP6):

7.43 miles / 2h 15min / 18:10 pace

In 12:45am / Out 2:21am (1h 36min break)

Mauthe Lake (CP6) – Hwy H (CP7):

9.06 miles / 2h 49min / 18:39 pace

In 5:10am / Out 5:35am (20min break)

Hwy H (CP7) – Finish!

9.06 miles / 2h 55min / 19:18 pace

In 8:30am

THE RACE REPORT
As I mentioned, I had a good race day. All things went better than I’d planned. And to be honest, I can’t tell you why. But I can go over the things I did leading up to race day, and what I did the day of. Because something worked. 

First of all, my training for this thing was most definitely unconventional. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and frankly, I know I don’t have the time to “properly” train for an ultra winter race. So my strategy was to basically stay in shape and go for one long run/hike each month – to “remind my legs I need them to go far.” That’s in quotes because that’s literally what I said to myself – that’s why I did the long runs. In fact, here’s my schedule, which I pretty much stuck to, except December – because work got insane and I was sort of babying a hurt knee… Or maybe using it as an excuse to rest. 

So not your typical training schedule, but it was fun, for the most part. It was tough getting out on some of those, and several were on little to no sleep because I’d hit the trail immediately upon getting home from a run in the truck. But I figured it was good fatigue training – which I think was actually a huge help on race day. I knew exactly how I was going to feel in the 21st hour. Stumbly. That’s how. But I knew what to expect, and I knew when to drink coffee. And how to stumble without falling. I got kind of good at it. “Pick ’em up!” became a mantra I would say to myself out loud in the dark woods, reminding myself to pick up my feet so I didn’t trip and fall (which I ended up doing quite a few times anyway). 

For the week leading up to the race, Adam and I took the whole week off from work, so I had a chance to get all my stuff together (physically and mentally). I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish each day, spreading it out to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I had a list of food to pack. I had a list of gear to get ready. I had a pace chart and a chart to show when to take my Aleve and Tylenol so I didn’t OD and piss off my kidneys. I had a lot of lists. 

On Sunday before the race, I went for an 8-mile trail run on the course. It was 5 degrees, and I sweat my butt off. I also tested my new Kahtoola spikes on the very icy trail with great success. The next day, Monday, I packed up and hiked about 4 miles with a full-geared backpack to Shelter 2 – again, along the race course. I made a campfire, ate couscous, drank a beer and even sipped a little whisky before bundling up in my down booties and sleeping bag. I figured it would be nice to have a little quiet time to myself, and as a bonus, help me adjust to the cold a bit. I stayed toasy-warm all night. In the morning I hiked out 8 miles in the pouring rain. I was soaked and chilled when Adam picked me up. As long as it didn’t rain on race day, I’d be okay with just about any other kind weather. 

Sleeping out in the cold!

On Friday, the day before the race, I went for two short runs on the trail to test the conditions. But that was pretty much it – that’s all I did physically before the race, and I went into Saturday feeling pretty fresh and not sore anywhere. Dare I say I was… relaxed!? No. No way. I had jitters, big time! But without them, a race would just be another old run. Gotta embrace these special parts, too! 

Me and Adam at the start.

So race day surprised me. I usually go to the bathroom about 8 times before any race, whether it be a 5k or a 100k. But I only went twice, and I felt like a normal person for once. At the race start, I just mingled with my family, friends and other racers, tried to stay relaxed and keep my toes warm. Before I knew it, the race had started. No, seriously. Everybody was moving past the start banners and I was still putting my pack on! I jogged to catch up to the pack and with Rich, a friend who was going to run with me. 

The four of us racers at the start – Tony, Rachel, me and Rich

The first 8 miles went by so fast! I was so used to training by myself with only my annoying thoughts to keep me company, that when I actually had real people to talk to, I had so much fun – and time flew by. Rich and I reached the Butler Lake checkpoint together, but sadly, that was our last checkpoint together, and the last time I’d hike or run along with someone the whole race. But I sure enjoyed his company! I think it was in the low 20’s, and I still got so warm on that first stretch that I had taken off my hat, gloves, and even rolled my sleeves up – and I still sweat like crazy. But I felt great anyway, and my pace felt strong and steady.

The next checkpoint came quickly, too. I think I was so distracted by having other people around that I barely noticed the distance. I talked with a few people, and even passed a few other racers all while keeping my steady pace. I wasn’t out to win anything, and passing people wasn’t like a strategy or anything, as my goal was only to finish, but I hoped to keep my pace, so I did,and it felt comfortable. At the 16-mile checkpoint my mom and dad greeted me with cowbells, along with the Fox Cities Backpackers who were volunteering – it was great to see the familiar face of my friend, Matt, too. I filled my water and was just about ready to get back out on the trail when Adam and his mom, Tara, arrived. Just in time! But back into the woods I went! 

Coming into a checkpoint – photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc. 

A couple of miles before the 23-mile turnaround, I started to see the lead racers heading back. They were all really supportive saying things like, “great job!” and “keep it up, you’re almost there!” and “the checkpoint has sausages!” I think I heard “sausages” from every single racer that passed by. It was true, too! And it was completely amazing. It was especially amazing because I hadn’t been eating nearly as much as I’d planned, and I felt a little hungry when a volunteer handed it to me. For some reason during the race, without overthinking it, I just started to eat when I felt I needed to – abandoning the way I trained all summer to eat something every hour. And I think that is one of the major reasons I didn’t have to stop for a poop yet. Sorry to keep bringing that up, but it was a serious issue on every single training run I did, and was therefore a major concern of mine for race day. I never did figure out my tummy. But so far? 23 miles in and it felt pretty great! Maybe I was forcing myself to eat too much during training. Who knows… 

As soon as I left the 23-mile checkpoint it started getting dark, so out came the headlamp. It also started getting colder, and for the first time I had a little trouble getting my fingers warm. But I brought ginormous down gloves, and that did the trick. Before I knew it I was back to just my liner gloves. I also stopped sweating so profusely as the cold air settled in. I peed for the first time at the next checkpoint, which seems crazy. I felt I was drinking enough. I sipped from my bladder regularly enough to keep it thawed out, and I switched between my Tailwind drink mix and a cold coffee, too. Once I took my first pee, though, the seal was broken. Then it felt like I had to go constantly. I ate some mostly rehydrated Ramen at the next checkpoint, and it was almost as amazing as the sausage. I filled up with warm water and head back out again. I remember feeling amazed that my legs didn’t hurt. At all. I was squatting down to stretch my knees and nothing hurt. It was weird, but I certainly wasn’t complaining! Onward! 

During the next stretch I noticed my first real pain – I think my spikes were creating a new pressure point on the ball of my left big toe. I pushed on, still able to jog the straight stretches and downhills. When I reached Butler Lake my dad was there, and delivered the sad news that Rich had to drop because he was experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. That’s some scary stuff – I was super bummed to hear he was done, but so glad he made the right decision, which can be so tough to do during a race! Especially in that condition. On the other side of the spectrum, I learned that Rachel kicked her goal’s butt. She made it 32 miles in 11 hours and 40 minutes! Woo-hoo! So many crazy emotions! So with that, my dad told me that everyone was waiting for me at the 46-mile checkpoint to cheer me into the last stretch. This gave me a boost, and off I went again! 

At the 46-mile checkpoint I chose to walk an extra quarter mile to the car to resupply, change and regroup. My mom and dad met me and walked to the car with me. Adam, his mom and Rachel were all waiting. Adam went to work trying to keep me on task. I grabbed a burger from the volunteers at the shelter, used the bathroom, tried to change out my injinji compression socks – injinjis are the socks with the toes – my mom had to help me. I just could not get my wrinkling toes tucked into those toe sleeves. Finally after some serious effort I was dressed and ready to go. I also recharged my phone and watch, filled my water, drank some coffee, and switched from spikes to yaktrax, which relieved my sore left toe. I was somehow still feeling incredible, but just a little tired. I took a longer break than planned, but still got out on the trail with plenty of time to still finish in under the 24-hour time limit. I was stoked heading back out into the dark woods! I had this thing! 

Smiling and feeling great at mile 46! Thanks, Tara for the photo!

The last 18 miles got colder. I pretty much hiked to the last checkpoint with my ginormous down gloves on and pulled my Buff up over my face because my cheeks and nose were starting to burn a little. I was feeling tired, and since I know this trail so well, I kept mentally checking off landmarks… And anticipating the next one. I knew that once I reached the sign for Shelter 1, it was just a steep downhill and short straight stretch to the Hwy H trailhead and my last checkpoint. So for about an entire hour I kept thinking I’d see it around the next turn. But I swear. It was moving ahead of me. I had to catch up! 

I did finally see the sign, and laughed out loud because I was so happy. But my happiness quickly turned to worry when just a short ways down the trail I caught up to another racer, moving slow with his pack draped over one shoulder. I asked if he was okay, and he responded with a head shake and a “no.” He said his back had seized up on him, and he looked really uncomfortable. I felt so bad for him. I offered to carry his pack to the checkpoint, but he said it was actually helping his balance. There was nothing I could do for him except encourage him by letting him know we didn’t have far to go. I let him know I’d alert the volunteers so they could get a ride ready for him. He did show up while I was still at the checkpoint, and he did get a ride out. I sure hope he recovered okay. That’s some scary stuff! Anything can happen out there. Read this story about a guy who had a mini stroke last year! The importance of being safe out there is no joke! 

My mom, dad, Adam and his mom were at the last checkpoint, which was a super-huge boost before my last nine miles. I drank a coffee mixed with hot cocoa, and man, did that taste good! I was thrilled – my appetite was pretty near gone at that point, so I wasn’t eating enough – but I was trying! The only thing I was tolerating was my Huma gels (like a Guu energy gel, but Chia seed-based and made with less crap ingredients). And that’s because I’d squeeze some into my mouth, bypassing my taste buds, and since I didn’t have to chew, directly down my throat. Huma gels for the win! After peeing and filling my water bottle I head back out for the last nine miles. 

I added a layer – my Patagonia Nanopuff jacket, which was perfect. I wore my giant gloves and kept my Buff over my mouth and nose off and on. I stayed pretty comfortable, and again plodded down the trail, still able to lightly jog a few easy spots, and played the mental landmark game again. This time I was searching around every corner for shelter 2 because I knew it was exactly one mile from the finish. When I finally saw it, I nearly cried! I knew that was it. I could literally crawl the rest of the way and still finish in time. But… I didn’t have to. In fact, I picked up my speed! Nothing was hurting, except for some heavy foot fatigue, which I obviously expected and can totally handle (another helpful benefit to my super-insane long training runs). My knee that I injured back in November even felt good. Which is some sort of miracle. For real. I’m not even kidding when I say the only thing that makes sense is that my 97-year old grandma was praying for me – our family all says that she’s got a direct line to the big guy. Thanks, grandma! Not even a twinge!! 

I passed by a guy in that last mile and couldn’t help but notice his epic ice-beard! I remember asking him if I could take his photo, but my words were coming out in slow motion. As excited as I felt to be nearly done, my fatigue, lack of caloric fuel and the cold air’s effects were obvious. I ate one slice of Salami, one Huma gel, five Reeses pieces, and half a bottle of cold coffee in the last leg of the race. Just enough to get me there, I guess! If I had been going any further I would’ve had to force more down. And it’s hard to describe how cold it can get out there, but dudes’ beards can give you an idea! I later learned this badass’s name was Sean and he finished just after me. 

Sean’s EPIC ice beard!! That is a face of the Frozen Few!!

I don’t remember much of what was said when I finished, as it’s quite a blur, but I had a small, but awesome crew cheering me in. My mom, dad, Adam, his mom and my friend and fellow racer Tony was there. Rod, the race director presented me with a congrats and a finisher’s dog tag, which I’m showing off in the first picture of this blog entry. It might not seem like much… A little dog tag, but I know any of the other “Frozen Few” would agree that that dog tag holds a whole lot of value – and symbolizes determination, heart, pain, adventure, fierceness, and accomplishment. So much more, too, but those are some biggies. 

A big, happy, frozen smile! FINISHED!

So in the end, I thought my knee would stop bending. It didn’t. I thought I’d poop along the trail at least five times – final trail poop count was… Drum roll, please… ZERO! Another frickin’ miracle! I thought my calluses would give me trouble. It’s like they weren’t even there. I thought my legs would get sore and stiffen up. They didn’t, and I still can’t believe it. I thought I’d have worse butt chafe, but my 2toms butt shield did its job (I know to some, this may seem like TMI, but trust me. My fellow racers don’t even blink at the talk of bodily chafe. It’s a thing. A super-horrible, painful thing. Wherever you get it!). I thought I’d lose my appetite, and I did, but my body handled it way better than ever before. I thought I’d eat more, but it took until race day to realize that maybe I was trying to eat too much – and too much “real food” like energy bars, candy bars, meat, cheese… things that needed to be chewed before swallowing and were more work for my already energy-depleted body to digest. My guess is that my body was able to process liquid calories like my amazing Tailwind drink mix and the Huma gels without much trouble. So I learned a lot about myself, once again! It never stops when you push yourself past what you think is possible, and I love that about endurance sports! 

I am 99% satisfied with my race performance and results. The 1% comes in because looking back I could have totally beat my time from 2010 of 21 hours and 49 minutes. But my goal was just to finish, and I did that. Next time maybe I’ll shoot for time. It always comes down to conditions, which I thought were quite similar to 2010 – maybe a little colder this year. 

Post-race? I showered, ate a huge breakfast (chicken-fried steak, eggs, hashbrowns, toast, cottage cheese and coffee), slept for three hours, watched the Packers beat the Cowboys, had a grasshopper ice cream drink and went bed. That night I had some pretty terrible foot cramps that made me uncontrollably groan, and I woke up a few times in a pool of sweat, but otherwise slept okay. The next two days I felt a little normal muscle soreness and my feet swelled up pretty good, but I expected that. I will lose no toenails, but to be fair, my one damaged toe (just a gnarly blood blister) already was sans-toenail. I was tired and still feel I little behind on sleep, but as I write this I’m ready to start running again, and planning my next adventure, which you’ll read about in a couple of months, probably! Cliffhanger! Haha!

I know that was a super-long race report – so to reward those of you who stuck with me, here’s a photo of my gnarly toe. Sorry if you’re squeamish. I’m always kinda strangely proud of these things. 

The black big toenail is from early November, so that one doesn’t count… But it’s pretty, isn’t it? Who needs nail polish?

GEAR 

Yay! Gear! 

This is just about all of it!

What I wore:

Sugoi Subzero tights

Patagonia underwear

Cheap sport bra from Target

Injinji compression socks – I love Injinjis! I pretty much only wear Injinjis all the time, now. Best socks ever. 

Patagonia midweight capilene long sleeve shirt

Patagonia R1 3/4-zip fleece

Patagonia Nanopuff jacket – it’s synthetic (not down) so maintains some warmth if it gets damp. 

Altra Lone Peak Mid Neoshell boots – pretty certain these are why I have few blisters. So much room for the toes, so very lightweight, and zero drop. 

Outdoor Research tall gaiters

Kahtoola microspikes and Yaktrax Pro

Fat Otter buff 

Smartwool hat

Black Diamond down mittens

Cheap silk gloves liners

My big, green down Black Diamond gloves hung off the waist strap on my pack for almost all of the race, but made great pockets for things like my hat and gloves that kept coming on and off. And they were nice for the few times my fingers got really cold. 

In the beginning I was so warm that I had no ear/head coverage, no gloves, and my sleeves were rolled halfway up my forearms. My layers performed perfectly. I got wet from sweat at the start, but my Patagonia layers wicked properly, so by the time the temperature dropped, I felt mostly dry (with the exception of my back which will sweat regardless when wearing a pack). 

My tights were perfect, too. One layer of thick, fleece-lined tights and my legs were comfortable the whole time! 

My Altra boots worked great, but with the low snow this year, the mid-height was probably unnecessary. It’s what I trained in, though, and the combo of my injinji socks, Altras, OR gaiters and traction worked great for me. 

Other gear:

Backpack – Out There USA MS-1 – I tried about 5 different packs throughout the summer. This was the winner. Comfy, not a ton of bounce when jogging and a TON of pockets accessible without taking it off. I only had to remove it to put water in my water reservoir during the race. 

Black Diamond trekking poles – I’ve used these suckers for more than ten years. Great piece of gear! 

Black Diamond Spot headlamp – takes 3 AAA batteries, and with the lithium batteries, only had to switch them out once. (And I was able to do so by moonlight!) 

Electronics – Samsung Galaxy S6 (which I kept turned off for most of the race), US Cellular pre-paid cheap flip phone (worked great for service on the trail and the battery lasted forever, even in the cold!), Garmin Fenix watch for GPS tracking and stats (recharged at about 16 hours. Held up great), Pocketjuice portable charger (didn’t need) 

First aid & other items – SOL emergency bivvy, REI whistle, spare Petzl E+Lite headlamp, lighter, fire starter, heat blanket, small Swiss Army knife, hand and body warmers, blister pads, 2Toms butt shield anti-chafe wipes, medical tape, duct tape, blinking red bike light, blue blinking bike light for backup, chapstick, Aleve, Tylenol, salt caps (planned to use these but didn’t) 

Toilet kit – Deuce of Spades trowel, TP, ziploc bag for used TP (a leave no trace practice), tampons (yes, lucky me – race day!), hand sanitizer, wet one wipes, and Immodium (which was not needed!) 

Food and drink:

I maybe consumed only 1/3 of all this stuff.

Huma gels
Tailwind drink mix
Pedialyte – only drank one of these

UCAN drink mix – didn’t use on race day, but should have! Very good, and the liquid calories really would’ve helped me out! I think I was too hurried to mix it. Need to do this pre-race next time! 

Starbucks Via

Sweet – mini oreos, Reeses pieces, waffle stingers, mini snickers, dark chocolate coconut Ocho bars

Savory – potato chips, combos, Salami, string cheese, macadamia nuts, bacon

Ginger – I don’t like Ginger at all, but it soothes an upset tummy, and I did eat some at the 46-mile checkpoint. It works! 

Chocolate-covered espresso beans – I didn’t have any! Another weird one! 

A few more photos:

My name on the Frozen Few plaque from 2010

Inspiration

Pre-race jitters. I had just gotten my bib!

Crazy results on my Strava app – pulled from my Garmin GPS watch

I repeated this one to myself a lot.

My dad and my mom and my mom’s amazing hat.

Toots and Tears do the Frozen Otter! Adventure buddies!

I’m the one in pink. Another photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc.

My first time with spikes. Love them! I was running on glare ice during training with complete confidence.

Post-Otter, enjoying some swag. The shirt, the buff, and of course, the Frozen Few dog tag! Tired and proud!

Tonight I love these people, and you – my support.

Thank you:

Adam – You are my #1. This guy was at the race to cheer me on, kick my butt to keep me going, give me warm hugs, and a big smile at the end. On top of that, every time I did a long training run over the summer/fall, he took care of our trucking errands we always have to do on very limited time whenever we’re home. All so I could train. I know this was a big sacrifice of precious off-time, so I can’t say enough how much I appreciate this. I love you, Adam – thank you for being the best support crew leader guy ever! 

My mom and dad – they were there in 2010 when I finished, and they were here this year when I finished. To see their smiling faces and to get hugs of encouragement at checkpoints was a huge boost! My biggest fans, for sure! 

Tara – Adam’s mom, my mother-in-law came down this year. She was a great addition to my cheering support crew. She took a lot of great photos, too. Thank you so much for being there! 

Grandma Laatsch and family – I admit I had an unfair advantage compared to the other racers because my grandma was praying for me out there! I also received several well-wishes and love from my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Rachel, Tony and Rich – my fellow racer buddies. It was good to have you out on the trail this year – even if we weren’t able to trek side by side, it was still nice to share in the misery with you! 

My social media family – you all rock. I had so many good luck wishes and followers that there was no way I could’ve given up! Strength in numbers! 

Race directors and volunteers – without you guys, thus wouldn’t exist. You make it all happen, you make is possible, and you make it fun. And you kill at making Ramen. No. Seriously. Ramen tastes awesome when you make it! Rod and Karen – I’m glad that we’ve been able to become friends through this event. Thanks for continuing to put in the hard work and travel to keep this going! 

Other racers – I don’t know most of you by name, but your kind words when passing by, your blinking red lights and bouncing headlamps through the woods like beacons, and comeraderie is something that needs to be experienced to understand. It’s incredible. And after all those lonely training miles by myself, this made the miles slip away beneath me. Thanks! 

Gear companies – Thanks for making kick-ass stuff. If I’ve mentioned you in this blog entry, it’s because you make a great product in my opinion and experience. Keep it up! 

A really bad day and a winter shut-down

Winter is kicking our butt this year!

Picture this scenerio: Two truck drivers, doing the best they can to keep their wits in poor weather, are pulled over in a designated pull-off of a two-lane, winding mountain road to let a line of cars go by. When they try to head out they find themselves stuck with tires spinning – on a cold, lonely mountain pass. After several attempts and strategies out of their situation, frustration and worry begin to surface. As if that wasn’t enough, the passenger-side window shatters after shutting the door with the window half down. All they can do is just stand there, staring at each other in disbelief from their bad luck. Feeling totally worn and defeated, they stare into the snow-turned-freezing pouring rain for a few seconds. The truck is stuck and freshly-broken window glass is spewn about. All they can think is, “is this really happening right now?”

Most trips go pretty smoothly with not much to talk about. Then some – well, like this one – leave you with a story to tell. These trips test your patience, character, ability to make decisions, knowledge, and simply whether or not you can hold yourself together. Which really, in the end, you have no choice in the matter. You just gotta do what needs to be done. But it sure isn’t fun.  

It started before we even left. Our route to Portland, Oregon from Wisconsin would normally take us through North Dakota, but a blizzard came through, shutting down most of our route along I-94. We took a slow-going alternate route through Wisconsin, dipping us down toward I-90 through South Dakota instead. This put us a little behind our normal schedule, but that was okay. One blizzard bypassed? Success, I suppose. 

Not a great outlook. Red is closed, red/white is not advised.

We confidently cruised through rain and snow flurries in Montana and Idaho. Then we crossed the Columbia River gorge from Washington state into Oregon. It was like someone turned on a light switch, only it was a blizzard switch. We found ourselves in a world of white, falling and blowing snow. After a couple of hours of poorly-maintained roads a sign told us we had to stop and chain up. We pulled out our tire socks, installed them and head back out. I went back to bed as Adam slogged along at 20mph in the snow storm. We finally, but safely, arrived to our pre-paid reserved truck parking spot at 11 pm. We made it through another nasty blizzard. 

Chain restriction on I-84. On go the socks!

Then came the ice. The next morning we planned to walk over to the restaurant for breakfast. We stepped out of the truck onto a glassy, reflective sheet of solid, thick ice that covered the entire parking lot. And every truck. And every branch of every tree. Every… thing. We literally shuffled our feet by inches to make our way across the lot for breakfast, then slowly head out into those elements to our delivery. At our delivery, the ice-covered lot made it pretty tough to back into our dock. I kept trying to pull up to the right, but the tractor would just slide to the left. Finally after about ten attempts I got backed in, all while a couple of forklift drivers looked on, entertained. I was tempted to install our tire socks on my steer tires just to get backed in… I was close! 

Just a little ice.

After that I took a deep breath and head south to a second delivery a couple of hours away, and got a break from the ice. The temperature rose and it poured rain, but it wasn’t icy! Unfortunately we had to head back right into it for our pickup in Tillamook, Oregon. This trip is normally a beautiful drive along a winding, two-lane mountainous road in the Cascade mountain range. 

That’s when our bad luck started to pile up. Already working on spent nerves, we made our way up the pass. It wasn’t long before the rain on our windshield started to splatter. It was starting to snow, and as we slowed down, a line of cars built up behind us, impatient and wanting to pass. It’s common courtesy and sometimes law to pull over if possible to let others by. So we did. We pulled off on a pullout designed for these sorts of things. This one, in particular, was covered in snow but looked pretty solid. We sat and let the cars go by, taking advantage of being stopped to breathe, gather ourselves, and discuss and prepare for the night’s uncertain weather that lay ahead. 

When we were ready to go, Adam released the brakes, lightly pressed the fuel pedal, up went the rpms, but nothing. We weren’t moving. It was a classic case of warm tires on cold snow. The tires get warm from driving on the road, and when you stop, those warm tires melt through the snow, and when it’s cold enough, that melt freezes, and there you sit. Aaaand so there we sat. We were basically stuck with each individual tire in its very own icy hole… spinning. 

First we pulled out our handy collapsible shovel and shoveled the snow out from under each drive tire. Nothing. Then we tossed kitty litter under each tire. Nothing. More shoveling, more kitty litter, nothing. We rocked and rocked and shoveled and kitty-littered… Still nothing. I grabbed a couple of tire socks and tucked them under a couple of the tires. The tires grabbed them! But then spit them right out the other side. No go. 

I started to worry, and we were getting frustrated. We were cold, muddy and wet from the sloppy snow/rain that was coming down. I stepped back into the truck to grab another set of tire socks, with the new plan of trying to install them onto the tires that weren’t going anywhere. That’s when Adam closed the passenger-side door. We had the window halfway down so it kept out most of the rain, but so we could still hear each other while trying to get unstuck. The door banged shut, with an eerie simultaneous, “crash!” I turned to see what happened and saw the passenger seat full of shattered glass. My heart immediately sank to my stomach. Is this really happening right now? I felt like we were stuck in some kind of lucid nightmare. 

In an effort not to lose it myself and run off into the snowy forest screaming and crying, I just kept going the only way I could. I got out of the truck right away, walked over to Adam, hugged him tight and said, “we’re just having a really bad day. But we’re going to be okay.” We stood there in what was now pouring rain, hugging, and just for a single minute gave up and didn’t care that the truck was still stuck, and now our passenger-side window was gone. 

After letting ourselves just be in our craptastic moment, we continued on with the task of getting the truck moving. I got a couple of tire socks halfway on, and with some tricky rocking of the truck, Adam finally got it moving forward. I quickly gathered our tire socks, shovel, and kitty litter into my arms, jumped in the truck, and off we went. I wore my jacket, hat and gloves the last 30 miles to our destination to thwart off the cold coming in through the broken window, and thankfully the rain mostly stayed out. 

We made it to our shipper, and while we waited for an open dock we started to deal with the window situation. We gave our awesome maintenance guy a call, and he got us going on a plan. He talked us through how to rig up a temporary window using clear plastic and Gorilla tape, while he called to see if there was a place nearby that had the window we needed. Trying to get the plastic and tape to stick to the wet truck while it poured rain was quite tricky, but we worked fast and managed to patch something together – but it was most certainly temporary. Thankfully there was a place in Portland that had a window – and they were open until midnight! Now we just had to get our trailer loaded and get back over the same pass in the declining weather before they closed! 

Makeshift window. Not an easy task in the pouring rain.

We arrived at the service garage with a few hours to spare. We dropped our truck off, and got a ride to a nearby hotel where we took hot showers to rid our bones of the wet chill we’d been fighting, and went right to bed. The next morning we picked up our truck with the plan of finally heading home. 

Nope. We weren’t done yet! I-84 eastbound (our route home) was closed down because of not only poor road conditions, but also to clear up some accidents that had occurred due to the roads being slippery. Maybe it was a good thing that we weren’t able to head into that the night before. Did our broken window save us from that mess? Who knows. Maybe we wouldn’t have gone anyway. 

Enough of this!

In an effort to keep moving, we head north toward Seattle to catch I-90, avoiding the whole closed I-84 mess. About 10 miles out we realized chain laws were in effect over Snoqualmie Pass. We pulled off at a rest area and made a call to our after-hours dispatcher (it is now Saturday). Our company is always totally supportive of our comfort zone when it comes to driving in adverse weather conditions, and with no question, the decision to try the alternate route or go back and shut down was totally up to us. We turned back. Heading up to a chain-restricted mountain pass sounded a little too nerve-wracking and dangerous. 
Will this week ever end? Keeping fingers crossed! 

About says it!

Tonight I love summer.