It’s been a while, and it will be a little while longer before I have anything new to share.
So, how about this instead. A note I just rediscovered. I wrote it after the events of this post.
That thing when you disappear into the hills with your dear and your phone dies but you have your dog and you let her eat bacon grease and lick the last of the soup. Then when you go back to civilization the car ride makes her stomach roil and protest. Then a fire alarm battery wakes you up at 3:00am and then her stomach wakes you at 3:30am and you don’t know what’s worse the beeping or the gurgling as you stumble, limping heavily with sleep.
But then on your back, your dear asleep, heavy with sleep, you can’t sleep. You can’t fall back to sleep.
So, you think of limping to the car with the dog and driving back and letting your phone die and sleeping through the sunrise. You would rather wake with a cold nose in a cold car than this.
Have you ever experienced the feeling of being not-quite-home?
I’ve been in this place a lot, at the intersection of one life and the next.
Where the place I am doesn’t feel familiar enough, but the place I’ve left feels just as strange.
It’s been more than six months since I packed up my world and moved to Boulder.
But, Boulder doesn’t feel like home yet, either. I step through my routine of sleep, coffee, work, run/bike/hike, repeat. Write a little. Read a little. Call my mother. Send love notes to my friends.
And yet, Boulder isn’t quite home yet.
The landscape (dry, even after weeks of rain) is so foreign to me. The flora (sequoia pines that smell like butterscotch when you press your nose against their bark, sage growing wild by the trail). The fauna (rattlesnakes, mountain lions, magpies).
I hike and sit on the rocks, slowing turning bright red from sunburn, looking out over the plains with something akin to confusion. Then, I turn my back and look west toward the mountains, bravely white-capped against the warming world.
In the city I make small talk at the coffee bar. I bike along the creek to and from work. The living is easy here. Easier, I think, than what I’m used to. Even having a food allergy is impossibly easy. “I have a soy allergy–“ “Oh, we don’t use soy in this restaurant.” “What? No soy in anything? Not even the chocolate cake?” “That’s right.” “Give me six of the chocolate cake, then!”
I learned to make Cuban coffee in a moka pot, although I use less than half the normal amount of sugar. I learned, too, how to stuff herbed butter under the skin of a Cornish Game Hen and how to trim climbing skins and how beautiful the Flatirons are when illuminated by alpenglow.
The beer’s not as good here. But the mixed drinks are much better.
I’ll make it back to Vermont next summer, I hope. Right now, I’m on my way to Baltimore for my cousin’s wedding and I wonder, I can’t help but wonder: what will it feel like to come… home?
This surprises me as much as, I’m sure, it surprises you! I had no idea that I didn’t believe in mountain lions. It never occurred to me to seriously contemplate whether or not they existed, until now. Now, I live in a land of mountain lions. I hike on trails posted with signs that say “mountain lion territory.” And yet when I read these signs, my mind automatically replaces the words “mountain lion” with “unicorn.”
I’m very fond of the word catamount. It rolls off of my tongue so sweetly, so naturally. I decided that I wanted to go to Middlebury College when I was ten because of the bronze catamount statue in their sports center. (Spoiler: I didn’t get accepted, but I went to a different small liberal arts college that tried very hard to be Middlebury, only in brick instead of marble.) I wrote a moderately good poem in college with the lines:
A catamount behind circus bars
cannot carry off your children and chickens
to kill and eat.
And yet, for all the word rolls off of my tongue so sweetly, so naturally, I find myself firmly believing that catamounts, real live cougars, are figments of one’s imagination. Here’s why:
Vermont’s last resident mountain lion was killed in 1881.
I found an article from 2012 that says Vermont’s division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gets 45-50 cougar sightings a year. That’s 45-50 people a year who don’t know what a bobcat/deer/large dog/fox/Maine coon cat/etc. looks like.
So, pardon me for being suspicious of anyone who says they’ve seen one. I also never believed in the toothfairy; I just played along as long as I kept receiving cash deposits under my pillow.
Mountain lions are, apparently, a serious thing out here with several verified attacks on human and even human fatalities around these parts. I even picked up a book specifically about the mountain lions who are my new neighbors, The Beast in the Garden by David Baron. It’s quite good, reading like a fast paced crime novel and cautionary parable. I biked by the trail where a woman my age was treed by two cougars.
Apparently, they wander into town fairly regularly. Or they lounge in the trees off of popular hiking spots just out of town.
Reading The Beast in the Garden was supposed to cool my enthusiasm about the possibility of running into a mountain lion. The accounts really are frightening. But. I can’t help it. I get a little excited thinking…
It’s springtime in Colorado, though for someone used to the growling weather in New England, it’s felt like spring for an awfully long time. The clouds roll in and high above us linger. Here, again unlike the east, the clouds seem so far away and, for all their attempts, appear thin. I swear I can feel the sun through them.
Even the dark days seem bright.
Two weekends ago, driving back from a weekend in Fruita, we drove through sun, rain, snow, and rain again. Now that felt like home.
Do you remember (it feels so long ago) when I wrote down my resolutions post Wanderlust Fest? Once of them was to write where other people can see.
I’ve always been afraid of showing people what I write. But there’s this wonderful thing that happens when I’m busy or distracted. I write, I write well, I edit, and I publish without a moment’s thought to my inner critic because my coworkers have already gone over it to say, “Yes, yes. Change this, not that. Looks good. Hit send.”
In the course of these last five months, I’ve written a lot. I’ve conducted more interviews than I can probably count. Edited more articles than I can recall. And hit the publish button over and over again.
That last one was actually pretty nuts. It was the first time I’d interviewed anyone since college, for one. For two, Tim Robinson was elected to the Bentonville, Arkansas city council. For three, he’s also a director for Walmart. He and I covered so much ground in that interview, me from my tiny desk after hours, him from his car overlooking the city. Far too much didn’t make it to the final piece.
We talked about bikes, you see. But what I was really fascinated was the look into Walmart that didn’t show an evil corporation, but instead showed the passionate, civic-minded people who really are trying.
I still hate Walmart. But.
I think that’s an important thing. Incredible things can be accomplished by people who try.
I can’t describe the way the world drops dead the moment before one drops over a cornice and into a field of moguls. How the universe contracts and expands to encompass just the line – your line – through the mounds that rise and fall at their own leisure, not yours.
Maybe I can explain this:
One of the first runs we took lead us through a copse of trees called Half Moon. Early on, the grade pitches down, snow caked against a rock face. There is a left line and a right line. Neither is particularly narrow or long. A couple of turns, then out. No biggie.
Left line, two turns and I’m down. Thrown backwards and twisted so that my skis are above me, momentum pulling me down, down. Still sliding, I (panicked) barrel roll and, with my skis below me, I brake to a halt. A few seconds, that’s all.
My ski partner laughs and compliments my “smooth recovery.” Let this be a lesson to you; barrel rolls are always cool.
This fall is my achilles heel. It’s happened, moment by moment, dozens of times before and with the same result. I try to dump speed, I fall. The fall is always caused by imbalance, my weight thrown toward the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s incredibly frustrating. Even in the moment, it feels like a rookie mistake that I’ve been on skis too long to make.
I dust myself off, emptying the snow from my coat.
And we skied off.
We skied hard pack, we skied trees. We dropped off the sharp rim of Zuma Bowl. I pointed us down mogul runs until Brian, respectfully, started to decline and met me at the lift.
Maybe I can explain this, too.
I like the way moguls, perhaps more than any other terrain, force you to adhere to their path, bending you and your skis to their will. I like the way that if you ski them and ski them well, then in a way… your rhythm, your heart beats in time with that of the mountain.
But maybe Hemingway said all that needs to be said about skiing. It really is better than anything else.
It’s dumped something like five feet in Vermont in the span of a week, while here it’s hardpack and heavy, sun-warmed cement. I don’t mind. A day in the mountains is a good day to be alive.
Last night, I downloaded Sandra Lahnsteiner’s PURE (a really, really damn good ski film) off of iTunes. I watched a bit, paced a bit, then sat down again to watch some more. I sketch-write in my journal. I hold my ski jacket so that it all tucks into its own hood. I debate the merits of athletic leggings or compression shorts so well used they no longer compress much of anything. (I go with the shorts.) I sit back down to watch more. It’s getting late. I have to be up early the next morning. I keep watching.
I waste time folding the next day’s kit up and piling them up in the exact order that I will put them on in the morning. I’m procrastinating, obviously.
From what? Preparing… for my first ever backcountry tour.
Backcountry skiing. From a very, very young age, I knew I wanted to be a backcountry skier. Last night, falling down the rabbit hole of nerves and too much kombucha, I tried to trace that desire back to its root… down to the trembling husk of the seed from which this dream propagated. If I could just identify the seed, then I could explain why in gods’ names I was so nervous… why I felt like I was on the threshold to a door that would take me — somewhere I really, really desperately wanted to go.
My best guess is that it started, like so many other obsessions, with one particular sequence in Warren Miller’s Double Exposure; The Atlas Mountains.
More than anywhere in the world, I want to ski Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Last night, sitting on my bed with my eighth bottle of kombucha since I fell sick last week, I thought: That’s it. If I can fall in love with backcountry, then I will be well on my way to making it to the Atlas Mountains. And yes, I’m fully aware that every single ski sequence I’ve seen that was shot in the Atlas Mountains showcased stunningly lackluster conditions. I don’t care. To me, the Atlas Mountains are mythic. They are my one-item bucket list.
Into the mountains!
I woke up this morning and put on my kit in exactly the order I intended. I brewed a strong cup of black coffee. I gave myself the time to savor it. (I finally got an Able Disk filter for my Aeropress… Liz is back in caffeinated business.) I threw my gear in the car, and with Speed of Light from PURE on my lips, I drove to Brian’s and we were on our way.
It was very, very windy in the parking lot, but the day’s route kept us happily in the trees. Staying sheltered meant that I didn’t have to worry about being blown about, so I had plenty of mind-space to worry about what was going on with my feet.
Skinning is really, really weird. While the idea is similar to cross country skiing, in practical application, it isn’t very much like cross country skiing at all. It’s a lot more like snowshoeing on snowshoes that are much too big for you. When you adjust your bindings into their tallest “walk assist” mode, it starts feeling a whole heck of a lot like telemark skiing with super glue on your bases. Still no glide, but suddenly your upper thighs hurt. A bit like wearing heels, actually.
To sum up: skinning up mountains is kind of like snowshoeing in high heels.
I haven’t taken an Avvy 1 course yet (believe me, I know how important this is. Yes, I will do one. Yes, as soon as possible), so Brian was kind enough to stop and explain the basics as we went. Here is what layers of snow feel like when you’re using a probe. This is how to dig a pit. This is how to do a compression test. This is what slab looks like. This is what slab feels like when someone inadvertently tosses a shovel full of it into your face. Ow. Slab hurts.
Then, we skied. The trees (spruce of some sort?) were tight, then open, like lungs breathing. Technical, then dappled with light, technical again, a perfectly-placed kicker (apparently, I’m into those now), then a fast run out. Ah! Divinity. The snow was heavy, 5-10″ of lazy cement, but satisfying. Fast with moments of fluff.
And it was over far too soon.
Back at the car, I peeled off my socks, examining two raw blisters on my heels. I don’t have AT boots, see. Or, apparently, ski socks with the appropriate amount of heel padding to deal with the added rubbing.
Any sock recommendations?
Also, seriously. Go watch PURE. The filmography is incredibly badass, and the athletes are all powerful women. Sandra is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the honor to chat with, however briefly, and however entirely over email. I seriously, seriously regret not going up to her at IF3 last year when I had the chance.