Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What it's like to Climb a Mountain

People often ask me what it's like to climb a mountain.

Usually I hem and haw, and just say things like, "You just have to do it, it is totally worth it."

I don't want to discourage anyone, or make them realize how desperately uncertain the whole deal is.

In an act of random truthfulness, I have decided to give you an in-depth view of what you can expect to experience should you decide that you, too, want to climb a mountain.

First of all, please realize, I never actually "climb" on mountains. I don't know how. I walk on them. Sometimes it is steeper than other times, but I don't use ropes, and I wear hiking boots. Cliff faces are appealing, but I am pretty sure that climbing up cliff faces would lead to my death, so I haven't tried it yet.

  1. You get up at a godawful hour because in the summer (which is the only time you can really do this without ropes), there is going to be a thunderstorm in the afternoon. This happens pretty much daily. So you want to give yourself enough time to go up, get to the top, and get back down below treeline before being zapped by lightning (which can be uncomfortable). Do not be lulled into a sense of ease when the sky is amazingly blue, and the forecast is for "severe clear". It will change.

  2. Get winded between your car and the trail head. This is the mountain telling you that it is going to spend the day trying to kill you.

  3. Walk for a bit. Realize the trail is uphill. It will be uphill all day, just so you know.

  4. Yes, you may feel like you are going to die.

  5. Stop for a snack, but don't get too comfortable. If you get too comfortable, it will be like starting over. For every second you stop, your brain will try to forget how freaking hard this is, and it will be that much worse when you get going again.

  6. I would recommend 20-30 second "photo op" breaks every time you start wheezing. This gives you an excuse to catch your breath without losing face.

  7. The trees may start getting shorter and leaning at odd angles that defy gravity. It will start to get even harder to breathe here, but who needs breath?

  8. Once you get past the point where trees can survive, you will notice strange little animals, pretty flowers, and snow on the ground at the end of June. Often, this snow will not melt all year. This is to remind you that hey, if even trees can't survive here, what the hell am I doing?

  9. You will submit to endless plodding over rocky terrain after even the grass stops growing. There will be little to no dirt here, just rocks that will attempt to turn your ankles, beat up your feet, and make you feel even more unstable than you should with the thin air.

  10. On average, if you don't do this enough, or you are just getting started for the season, you will go slower than you think you are going. I generally calculate a ridiculously slow rate of slightly slower than 1 mile per hour on the way up, and somewhere around 3 on the way back. If the top of the mountain is 6 miles away, plan on it taking 6 hours up, or 9 hours total. Often it will take 12. Just be warned.

  11. Consider turning back at every step. Think about maybe faking an injury so you can go home and stop torturing yourself. Possibly, you should cry silently behind your sunglasses. It might be tempting to smoke a cigarette. You will feel better for a minute, but it may not be the smartest thing to do. Resist if you can without killing anyone.

  12. You had better have enough water. If you run out on the way up, just go back. Plan on 2-3 liters minimum for 8 hours of walking. It seems like quite a bit, but you will need it or your head will explode.

  13. You will not need to go to the bathroom until there aren't any trees. Mountains like to embarrass you.

  14. The top will seem like a few hundred yards away for the last two to three hours of walking. There will be false summits, and everything is farther away than you think because you are moving slowly, and there is nothing to compare the rocks you see above to. They are not pebbles. They are boulders.

  15. Victory will be sudden. HOLY CRAP YOU MADE IT! People have different things they like to do here. Sign the log to prove they did it, take a nap, eat something, take a bazillion pictures. The view will be amazing. You will spend more time at the top when you plan.

  16. The clouds moving in make everything look magical. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. The clouds are like lure fish. They want to eat you. It will talk longer than you think to get below treeline. Remember how your brain tries to forget how hard everything is on your way up every time you stopped? Your brain will also think you are done, accomplished, and can relax now that you are at the top. Realize you are only halfway through the hike, distance wise. You are only about a fifth of the way though it, danger wise. Most accidents happen on the way down.

  17. Probably, the thunderstorm will catch up with you as you scramble down. Realize that this will suck. This might be accompanied by driving rain that will hit the backs of your legs hard enough to leave welts, and hail stones traveling at about 100,000,000 miles per hour and flying sideways.

  18. The return trip will pass in a haze of fear and pain. Going downhill for 6 miles is a bit harder than going uphill for 6 miles because you are more tired and it stresses your joints more. You will find yourself dreaming of the idyllic uphill climb from earlier.

  19. I would suggest taking breaks on the way back. Very few people do, and this part of the hike will turn into a death march.

  20. Quite suddenly, you will be at the car, and the ordeal will be over (assuming, of course, you didn't fall into a ravine, take a wrong turn, get eaten by a bear, struck by lightning, or any number of other dangerous things that can occur).

  21. In the days that follow, you will experience a strange bliss. And may wish to brag. Most of your pictures will be from the walk up and at the top. There will be little evidence of the tortuous trip back. The pain and desperation will fade, and all you will be able to think about is which mountain to tackle next.

P.S. Keep in mind that if you are safe about the whole thing, you will probably fail more than you succeed when climbing mountains. As you become more experienced, this won't feel so much like "failure", but if you are honest, you are one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Why do Bugs Keep Going into My Mouth?!?!?

Dear Insects,

I know that you guys outweigh the rest of the non-plant life-forms on this planet by like a billion bazillion times. I understand that you are an integral part of the food chain, that you break down rotten shit, that you provide all kinds of goods and services to the environment, and that we all benefit in some way from your very existence. Good for you.

That said, I would like to ask you please please pretty please, stop flying into my mouth!

It's one thing when you bite, sting, and bug the shit out of me. That's in your nature, I get it. You can't help being the brainless annoyances you are. A little repellent, and we can both go on our happy ways. You stop thinking I am food or a good place to hang out, and I stop squishing you messily.

The problem occurs when you cross the line of basic decency.

Just because I am out of breath, and panting through my mouth, does not mean that the warm moist confines of my mouth is an OK spot to hang.

I'm just sayin'.

I can't help it if I am cruising along on my bicycle and one of you flies straight down my throat. You have to be on the lookout, too.

Help me to help you, insects, and I promise not to create a macabre collection of you all to hang on my wall.


P.S. This includes you, too, butterflies. Being pretty doesn't excuse you from taking responsibility for your actions.

P.P.S. I am pretty sure you are all aliens, or possibly vectors for the zombie uprising, so I would really rather not hear from you again. Ever.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Putting the "DIE" back into "DIET"

I noticed recently that I was developing a small pooch in the belly area. This made me very sad because I was fairly certain that the culprit was beer, and I love beer.

Not one to dwell on sad feelings, I decided I would do something about it. I decided to GO ON A DIET (Insert scary music here, something like DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN!).

One problem I have with dieting is that it is all so freaking complex. You have your carbs, and your fats, and your sugars, and your glycemic index, etc, etc, etc. It is all stupid complicated and you pretty much have to become a nutritionist just to lose 10 pounds. It doesn't help that I find any food that isn't fried or coated in sugar extremely boring, so learning about all the foods I should be eating and never do is super low on my priority list. Everything changes every 5 years, so in reality, no one really knows what the shit they're talking about, anyway.

In order to simplify things enough that I would actually follow my new diet, I decided I would go with the easiest to understand plan that I could come up with... calories in/calories out. If you want to lose weight, just consume fewer calories than you burn. Or, in the words of my sister, "Don't eat so much!"
I mean really, what could go wrong?

The first three days were pretty OK. I was grumpy and bitchy, but was managing to not stuff my face as much as usual.

Friday was National Donut Day.
I felt like a zombie surrounded by brains that I couldn't eat. Free donuts. Everywhere. Fuckers.

I managed to not eat any of them. It was like some kind of miracle.
Mostly I was hungry. And the world hated me. I wanted to crawl into a corner and disappear.

Friday after work, I went with my boyfriend and parents on a long bike ride after work. It was something like 20 miles round trip, and we stopped at a pub for steaks and beer. I was thinking I deserved the indulgence after being so good. But I did have the smallest steak I could find (6oz) and went with a salad for the side instead of the usual fries.

The next morning, feeling perky, I sucked down a chocolate soy milk for breakfast, and my boyfriend and I took off on a hike.
There is still quite a bit of snow on the ground at the higher elevations, and this weekend was "Free National Parks Day". To avoid the crowds, we went to a nearby openspace area near Masonville, called Bobcat Ridge. This spot has a few advantages over other local hiking spots, including a 10,000 acre fire about 10 years ago that knocked down a good chunk of the woods, and scared away many of the locals. I wanted to shoot some black and white film, and a burnt down forest seemed like a good place to do that.

Initially, I was fine. I felt good, I felt strong, and I only felt a little bit hungry.

We stopped for lunch about an hour and a half later. By then, I was ready to start eating the wildflowers. Or maybe one of the passing mountain bikers.
After we ate, I was still hungry, but we were at about halfway through the loop we were on, so there was not a lot I could do about it. I sucked down more water and kept going.

Sometime later, between the sun and the hunger that didn't even feel like hunger anymore, I realized it felt like hell. I thought I was going to throw up, pass out, or both.
Later I realized I burned something like 1100 plus calories on my little hike, and ate something less than 500 all day. When I said I wanted to lose weight, I didn't mean "starve to death quickly".

Also, I really should have reapplied sunscreen.

And that is how my diet nearly killed me. I crawled through hot lava for these pictures. I hope you like them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cloudy and Warm, with a Chance for Zombies

Today, I was thinking about zombies.

There are many other, possibly more productive uses for my finite brainpower. I could be thinking about getting a new dipstick for my car, or figuring out what that wire was that got yanked out by a fan a couple weeks back. I could be exercising in some way. I could be working on my comic book. I could be reading a book, or catching up on Buffy episodes from over a decade ago. I could even be thinking about doing some work because, you know, I am at work.

But no.

Today, zombies are on my mind.

I wasn't even thinking about what to do in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse. No survival techniques or anything. I was thinking, instead, about the physical presence of zombies at the workplace.

There is a lot of rhetoric out there about the causes of zombies, from the humorous to the grotesque. Evil corporations, 2012, a mutated rabies virus, blah, blah, blah. I even saw an article today trying to convince me that the iPad may be the cause.

But I know what will spark the zombie uprising.

Conference calls.

I think I was close to "the change" myself earlier today.

My call ran over a few minutes, I had to pee, I was sleepy, I was hungry. I had zoned out thinking about food. I completely "grayed out" for a while. No idea where I was. I wasn't asleep. But I wasn't awake. Then there was a passage of time. I blinked and came back, with no memory of the previous few minutes. I just felt groggy, and had drooled on my desk a little.

Usually lost time makes me think of aliens. As much as I may want to believe, though, I don't think I was abducted during a conference call in the middle of a fortress like corporate building and then returned to my desk 8 minutes later.

I think... I think I nearly became a zombie.

Now I know that this might sound a little drastic. But let me tell you the whole story before you click away in hopes of reading someone less crazy.

I became convinced that my employer has been experimenting on us fairly recently. I mean, sure, there are zombies in lock down back in the humidity controlled area, and parts of the building are completely sealed off. If you listen closely, you can hear the groaning and shuffling in the "empty spaces". I once had to battle a zombie engineer during my lunch break, which was exciting and all that, but I didn't have time to get my cafeteria food.

But I think zombies are pretty common in the corporate environment, especially among management.

Anyway, it didn't click that my job might actually be the CAUSE of the zombies, rather than just a symptom of consumerist America.

There are a couple of things you should probably know about my work:

We work in a closed environment. The air is recirculated, and a low level subsonic wave is broadcast building-wide to "dampen" the noise. Our building is very close to a large PharmCom.

Also, none of the super higher up executive staff are in this location.

My next circumstantial proof is that everyone here seems to be getting more and more tired as the week goes on. Sure, there will be a few people who stay up late drinking beer and partying, but most people, I think, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and get up functioning properly.

I believe they upped the dosage of whatever drug they are putting in the vents that keeps us docile.

They are making us into zombies.

This is actually a rather brilliant strategy in a growing job market. By making all of us zombies, they not only nip a mass exodus of disgruntled, underpaid employees in the bud, but they can cancel health insurance benefits, and retirement. ZOMBIES DON'T GO ON MATERNITY LEAVE!

Anyway, that was my Friday.

Oh, and I did work.

A little.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

FTW! Crawling Over the Finish Line

I get these little obsessions every once in a while.

For a while it was Jeeps. Or cephalopods as pets. Digital SLRs is still pretty high on the list, along with new boots for hiking. And my Kindle.

Sometimes, it is just a phase. And sometimes, I have a new hobby.

Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to RUN! I read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. I was convinced I should be a runner, maybe a barefoot runner, and I would become an ultra-marathoner in the next year or so. I even bought toe shoes.

While I was in the throws of this particular idea, I decided I would start training for the Bolder-Boulder for real this time. I went to a physical therapist who specializes in helping people run without injury and improving form and efficiency. Everything was going awesome.

I was so confident, I then signed up for a crazy 200 mile relay race at the end of the summer, and convinced a friend she wanted to go, too.

Then... life happened.

About a month and a half ago, I was feeling pretty good about the chances of running a 10K in under an hour. I had just completed a workout of sets, and gone about 5 miles in about 50 minutes.

And I stopped training.

I don't know what the hell. It isn't that I didn't want to go. I just didn't.

Before I knew it, Memorial Day weekend was here, and I was going to run 6.2 miles. A month and a half ago, I thought I could do it in 45 minutes. Now I was hoping for under an hour. Maybe.

I kept telling myself I did the race last year in an hour and twelve minutes. I didn't train last year at all. I can shave twelve minutes. Totally. Probably.


Monday Morning: Race Day

Hmm... It is 6:30 in the morning. It is possible I shouldn't have used beer to carb load last night. There is a line for the bus. Also, I have to pee.

Monday Morning (a little later): The Race Begins

The line for the bus took forever. With that, and waiting in line at the porto-poties, I miss my wave. Whatever. Gonna run, now!

Monday Morning (slightly later than that): I'm a Winner!

My friend and I take off. We are going strong, going fast, feeling good. Damn, I am so gonna beat my brother, first time EVER!

Monday Morning (still pretty close to the beginning): WTF?

Not a kilometer in, HOLY CRAP! MY KNEE HURTS! WTF!

Monday Morning (why isn't it over yet?):

We walk fast. My friend is awesome and stays back with injured me. Hurts a lot to run, doesn't hurt much walking, just a little. I walk faster than some of the joggers. But I am walking. I hate that I can't run. Seriously. I want to RUN. And I CAN'T. I'M A FAILURE!

Monday (is it still) Morning (?): The Finish Line

I run the last bit in the stadium, blinding pain. But it's fun. And I get through the end. I didn't even visibly limp!

Monday Afternoon: The Recovery of my Pride

They gave us free beer at the end. And water. And soda. And soy milk.

Fuck it, I had fun.

Anyway. I finished the Bolder-Boulder in 1 hour and 20 minutes, mostly walking. I kinda failed, but it was a fun day. Gotta get my knee in shape for the relay in August. And my brother has me convinced I should run a half-marathon in Tucson in December.

OK, fine. It isn't a phase. Now I just gotta stop hurting myself.