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Running against the wind
Facing fears while confronting intense mountain weather
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Were you in the path of the windstorm earlier this week? Our house was centered in the strongest swath of the jet stream, which brought winds so mighty to Telluride on the day after Christmas that the resort had to shut down operations on what is typically the most popular ski day of the year. Our house’s beams shuddered and groaned, and its windows rattled, as winds gusting 50+ miles per hour slammed the side. Winds reportedly twice as strong blasted the high points on the ski resort.
I did not attempt to run while the windstorm whipped up snow into blinding white clouds. I had logged a 12-miler the day prior, Christmas, on a relatively runnable county road between Ridgway and Ouray, and the sideways-hitting wind had almost tipped me over. I did, however, get out for a surprisingly good 7 miles on Monday in the gusty winds.
On the windiest day, I stayed inside with my daughter Colly and husband Morgan (our son Kyle, thankfully, had chosen to drive back to Boulder earlier, so he missed the extremely hazardous driving conditions). The wind made buckets by the barn fly into the aspen grove and tore a panel off the chicken coop roof.
Colly and I laid out two yoga mats and followed a 20-minute yoga video together, finding calm indoors. As I took deep belly breaths while lying over my calf in pigeon pose, appreciating the time with my now-adult daughter—cherishing the fact that she wants to spend time near me, doing something that I too like to do—I tuned into the violent sounds of the storm outside.
Thankfully, we do not live in a tornado or earthquake region, but intense and unstable weather is part of life around here. Runners from out of state who come in summertime to run Hardrock or other mountain ultras think that training their legs and lungs for extreme vert and altitude is preparation enough, but they underestimate the intensity of the weather. The monsoon deluges with hail and electricity become their undoing.
The severity of the wind and cold frighten me at times, and I have to deliberately manage feelings of vulnerability and loss of control. When I hear or feel anything rattle, it triggers a deep fear of earthquakes that I’ve harbored ever since living through the 6.9 Loma Prieta quake of 1989 and all its aftershocks while a college student in Santa Cruz.
I tell myself to be more like a Colorado aspen than a California oak—bend, don’t uproot and splinter. I am reminded of the trail-running adage, “Don’t fight the trail, work with it.” It means, adapt and make the best of your circumstances; relax and try to flow over the frustratingly rocky, muddy, sandy or snowy terrain. (I had to apply that lesson again this morning; we had a power outage overnight, resulting in no WiFi through morning, hence I’m publishing this post later than intended.)
We all must adapt to increasingly intense and unusual weather. Dramatic days—be they from winter windstorms, summer monsoons, or autumn wildfires that tarnish the sky and threaten to devour the land—make me appreciate the calm bluebird days even more.
Even though I try to be adventurous—and I have thrived during some true adventures, from yearlong travel around the world to weeklong self-supported stage races—I’m easily startled, and as I age, I sense myself becoming more timid.
As if to give myself exposure therapy for my fears of heights, cold and loss of control, I gave Morgan a Christmas gift for us both: a two-day ice climbing workshop at the Ouray Ice Park. We’ll spend the weekend of January 8 learning how to scale a frozen waterfall. Morgan is excited and somewhat shocked that I’d want to do it, given that I don’t share his interest in climbing. Here is a post from the guide showing what we signed up for:
“I want to do this—I’m really excited about it,” I told him, and oddly, I am. I like the idea of learning to climb with an experienced guide in a situation where both Morgan and I are rookies (unlike with regular climbing, which he learned in his youth and which I’ve concluded in discouragement that I’ll never be able to do). I also like the empowering idea of carrying and swinging two ice picks. I have run up Camp Bird Road in wintertime and marveled at the climbers there at the ice park, wondering how the hell they give a full-body hug to a sheet of ice while clawing their way up it.
Mostly, I’m excited to try something new, even if I don’t stick with it or get good at it. Similarly, I’m looking forward to taking up golf occasionally in the summer (I took a few lessons last summer). Whereas running represents for me a long-term serious relationship, these activities are like just-for-fun dates with no pressure and no expectations.
When I gave Morgan the gift of a printed-out certificate for the ice climbing, I wrote near the top, “Gotta try new things!” This was a reference to a weekend at a “trail fest” we spent with the kids in the bushland west of Melbourne, Australia, in early 2010. We were midway through a year of nomadic living around the globe, teaching the kids, then 11 and 8, the equivalent of 6th and 3rd grade along the way. We detoured to the trail fest because, why not?, and signed up for a family short-distance triathlon under the team name “Gotta Try New Things.”
I took the swim leg, which meant I had to dive into a murky lake and swim a long-for-me distance (it was a mere sprint for the more experienced swimmers there). I had just finished Bill Bryson’s hilarious book Down Under that detailed all the Australian insects, reptiles and critters that can kill with a mere bite or sting. Not unlike ice climbing as exposure therapy, I dove into that lake and swam my heart out, each stroke slaying my fear of the water and whatever creatures might be in it, and I emerged on the shore totally exhilarated.
Have you had to cope with wild weather recently? Will you try new things in the new year? Feel free to share your stories in the comments below. I’ll write more about new-year goals and challenges next time.