The One Gray Hair

It’s easy to write letters to our younger selves. It’s easy to say the words we wish we’d heard when we were younger. How often do we write a letter to our older selves?

A few weeks ago, I made a discovery. Hidden in my hair, just above and behind my right ear, is a single gray hair. This is the first undeniably gray hair I’ve found. The first one that is definitely not just a sun-bleached blonde traitor in a sea of brown. No, this one is definitely gray.

I froze, straightening iron poised in the air. I squinted at my reflection and considered pulling it out. Immediately, that thought was followed with, “what for?”

My mother’s hair is beautiful. It’s thick, but pin straight. The light color of her childhood darkened into strawberry blonde as she grew older, then streaked artistically with gray. She never colored it, never highlighted it, never low-lighted it, or whatever that’s called. And yet, when the gray first became apparent, an acquaintance asked her where she got her hair professionally frosted.

My father’s hair is also beautiful. It’s thick with the loose, wavy curls. His hair was dark, almost black, and in old photographs he looks rugged and mischievous. I don’t remember it being all that gray, but then I left for college and every year since his darkness is taken over by silvery white. He’s far more salt than pepper now, but it all happened so fast.

When I decided to leave the gray hair where it grew (slightly crimped. Why are my gray hairs crimped?), I did so to say, I love you, to my parents. Because they are two of the most wonderful people I know. Because, let’s face it, I’m probably directly responsible for a third of those gray hairs. Because I want them both to know that I think they’re better now than they’ve ever been before.

I hear rumor that our culture fetishizes youth. That we should all want to be young and beautiful forever. That seems sort of silly to me. The passage of time will bring age to me, wearing down my bones until I shrink and stoop. But it will also bring wisdom. It will bring gray hair, but it will also bring laugh lines and crow’s feet that, I think, will be their own reward.

To my older self, to the person I will some day be:

Don’t color your hair. Don’t make a fuss over fine lines and wrinkles. Find something more interesting to spend your time worrying about.

To my one gray hair:

Welcome. It’s about time you showed up.

To my parents:

Happy (belated) anniversary. Sorry for all of the gray hairs.

The Rules of International Travel

We hadn’t even made it back to the US when reverse culture shock slammed me in the chest. The couple sitting in the row in front of me, a young couple from Kansas stated “Oh, it was wonderful but we’re so glad to be going home.”

No, I thought. I don’t want to go back. Don’t make me go back.

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I ❤ Norway.

We flew into Bergen, Norway, where we rented a car and drove to Oslo. The next day, we jumped on a ferry from Oslo Fjord to Kiel, Germany, where we rented a different car and drove from Kiel to Amsterdam, The Netherlands for one more night. Then, on to Brussels, Belgium for two nights. Then to St. Malo, France for two nights. Then, to Paris for one night for an early morning flight out of Charles de Gaul. From our takeoff in Denver to our landing in Denver, we had 10 days. This is not a good way to see and experience Europe, but it was the perfect way for us to be. We missed more than we saw, but it was perfect.

I traveled so much as a kid, that it’s ingrained in my muscle memory. The only thing more fundamentally comfortable, more soul-relaxing than being surrounded by a landscape and language I don’t know is skiing.

On this trip, I was with someone who had not been out of the United States since he moved here ten years ago. This was his trip, really, and it was my job to show him how to wander well. I shared what I know, my rules of international travel.

You’ll notice that a lot of these involve food. It’s funny, because the idea of “traveling to eat” confuses me. But. I am a hungry, hungry hippo who could eat her weight in French butter if given the chance. Being hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry is the worst state in which to be while traveling. You’re likely to do something stupid.

Never Eat Anywhere That Has Pictures of the Food on a Placard. They are often captioned in English. I don’t even understand why anyone would fall for this. The pictures don’t even look good.

Never Eat Anywhere That Has English Posted Prominently Outside. This includes: English phrases like “Best Coffee in Brussels” (I promise it isn’t), and exclusively in-English menu posted outside. This does not include: English translations of menus presented once you sit down.

Take Advantage of Specialty Shops. Find the bakery/cheese shop/butcher/wine merchant/farmer’s market stall with no photos or English displayed. Walk in. Do not expect anyone to speak English. If necessary, point to the things you want. Pay for them. Eat these things with your bare hands on a bench, in a park, on a stone wall. It’ll be the best god damn meal you’ve had all trip. Repeat tomorrow.

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Lunch with a view.

Never Go Anywhere Where Someone Speaking English Tries to Hustle You Inside. This includes: restaurants with food-picture placards, gift shops, things masquerading as educational tours. If it’s 2pm and the guy tries to hustle you into doing a tour immediately because the last tour is at 6pm, you leave. I’ve also noticed that this kind of person tends to speak very quickly (even if they speak perfect English) as if aiming to confuse you into compliance.

Look Closely At Positive Reviews. Just because a bunch of Americans “really liked” one coffee stop doesn’t mean it’s any good. In fact, that might mean that they specialize in the sugary, weird, five shots of flavored coffee drinks that Americans like. That said, use Google. Especially when you’re there. Especially for restaurants. Look for positive ratings. Look for positive ratings made by people writing in different languages. That, my friend, is where you want to eat. Do the same for attractions. I don’t really use Trip Advisor, but I’m sure this law applies there, too.

This is Madurodam. It was the coolest, most random place I've ever been.
This is Madurodam. It was the coolest, most random place I’ve ever been.

Not All Tourist Traps Are Created Equal. By this I mean, some tourist traps are entirely worth doing. Poo-poo city bus tours all you want, but if you want to get oriented to a city, there are much worse things you can do.

Get Lost. Take a wrong turn by accident. Pull off at a random roadside attraction you’ve never heard of before. Let plans fall apart or, even better, let them not exist in the first place. Take a nap on the side of the road. Lose yourself in the weightlessness of bombardment by words you don’t recognize. For what is perhaps the first time since you learned to speak, struggle to communicate. 

You can debate forever the merits of travel. Whether it can really make you grow, expand your horizons, change your life, blah blah blah. I don’t think travel does any of these things. You are not more profound for getting your passport stamped.

The important part of traveling is learning to be comfortable with being misunderstood and comfortable in that you , too, will misunderstand. But, like a good existentialist, you must not accept this. You must try–struggle, even–to be understood and (most importantly) to understand.

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This is the face of pure fear navigating the Arc de Triomphe rotary.

In Between Home

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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?

Mountain Lions Aren’t Real: A Conspiracy Theory

I don’t believe in mountain lions.

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.

lastpanther
“Hey, whatcha thinking about?” “Oh, I don’t know. Mountain lion things, I guess.”

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…

I get to see a real live unicorn someday.

Writing Where You Can See

Hello! How are you – won’t you tell me your name?

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.

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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.

Here are just a few pieces I’m really proud of.

Interview with Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World.

Interview with Sarah Bowen Shea of Another Mother Runner.

What (and How) to Pack for the Backcountry.

Interview with Tim Robinson of Bentonville (and Walmart).

That last one?

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. 

A-Basin

Arapahoe Basin

It’s a little bit funny that this blog is, still, remains, a ski blog. It’s funny because I have a really, really hard time writing about skiing.

I can tell you about my routine before a ski day.

I can show you how a life can change in just one run.

I can share with you the lovelorn ache of a skier in summer.

But I can’t show you skiing.

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.

I curse.

Arapahoe Basin

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.

The Utmost Importance of Your First Backcountry Tour

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.

LOOKUP
I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING.

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 ExposureThe 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.

"How deep?" "A little deeper than this." "So, about one Brian deep?" "Yeah, about that."
“How deep?” “A little deeper than this.” “So, about one Brian deep?” “Yeah, about that.”

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.

"The gully is totally skiable!" "Yeah, I've gone down scarier."
“The gully is totally skiable!” “Yeah, I’ve gone down scarier.”

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.

Say Yes.

Night riding deserves a quiet night...
Night riding deserves a quiet night…

One of my first public blog posts ever no longer exists on the internet. It was published on the blog of the company I first worked for after college, which has since undergone a massive (and kind of perplexing) rebranding. Fortunately, I saved it: From Ugly to Design: Draplin Design Co. Rocks Vermont.

It was a run down on a presentation Aaron Draplin gave in a Burlington basement.

In the original blog, there are five direct quotes, but I frankly forgot about all but two. The two that, really, sum up the rest.

Say yes a little bit more than no.

Do good work for good people.

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Some days, the hardest part is saying yes more often than no. I have a deep appreciation for the word no. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as negative as people make it out to be. No is as much positive as it is negative (just as yes can really, honestly and truly, be a negative). That said, sometimes it feels so good to say yes.

Some things I have recently said yes to: 24 Hours in Chicago, Talking to strangers,  Cutting half my hair off, Extra hours in the office, One more cup of coffee at Ozo, Owning my geekiness (no matter how dweeby), Late night bike rides to clear the sickness from my throat.

What will you say yes to?

I Go To Seek The Great What Does This Button Do

So guys, I found this really cool thing on Pinterest? I'm totally never going to make it.
So guys, I found this really cool thing on Pinterest? I’m totally never going to make it.

A month and a bit into living in Colorado and I am still catching up with friends. I moved here so suddenly that there were a lot of people that I didn’t get to see, didn’t get to say goodbye to, didn’t even tell. In these conversations, phone calls that linger on and on, some form of the following statement is said: I’m so impressed that you were brave enough to do this. Even my mother says it, adding, What you’ve done is a scary thing.

Scary? If this was supposed to be scary, then why wasn’t I scared?

A while ago, I found this image while trolling Pinterest. “I Go To Seek A Great Perhaps.” I thought it was nice. The words felt good on my tongue as I whispered them out loud, full of promise.

Then I left home and came here, and now the words don’t make sense. A Perhaps is, maybe, what happens at Wanderlust Fest when you’re blissed out on yoga and kombucha. Maybe a Perhaps is the music/time passing sequence in a rom com. Something sort of tame and pleasant and predictable, which is all well and good… But, to be honest, I’m more of a What Does This Button Do kind of girl.

My good friends all come to recognize a particular mood that comes over me. I don’t know what to call it, but when I’m in it… I’m apt to dissect remote controls, climb on buildings, eat the entire pie. I turn around and talk to strangers and follow people I barely know into strange places. I don’t stand still; I want to know what is behind the curtain, even if it’s just more of the same.

Maybe it’s curiosity. Maybe it’s recklessness. Maybe I’m just compensating for all of the time I spend shy and nervous and uncomfortable standing in the corner at parties wondering if it’s socially acceptable to crawl under the table with the dog because, man, he just gets me.

But it’s a pretty good way to live.

I Go To Seek The Great What Does This Button Do

Laney writes: “Low-novelty seekers like to see the big picture before plunging ahead…” And low-novelty seeking correlates strongly with introversion. Apparently, no one told me this when my brain-chemistry was mixing in the womb. I nail every other introvert trait except for that one, as if even as a pupa I rebelled against my own nature… as if… as if I went exploring through my genome, turning things on and off according to a set of printed out directions until I came across this one tantalizing gene… proto-Liz paused there and said, “Huh. I wonder what this button does.”

27 in 27

My birthday stalked me like a catamount this year. Following my footsteps and tire marks across the Green Mountains and through the midwestern plains. I’m a little surprised it found me at all.

27!

Do you know they say the brain doesn’t fully mature until age 25? Have you felt it – your gray matter settling into one place? The connections solidifying, their assertions becoming fixed? The simple fact that you really don’t do stupid shit anywhere near as often anymore? I’ve felt it. I swear.

So. My birthday list. 27 things I’d like to do this year for no other reason than Why Not.

I mean, who doesn't want to hang out at a place named "Loveland."
I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out at a place named “Loveland.”

1. See divvi (my primary freelance obsession project) launch

2. Travel with Rob

3. Ski Loveland

4. Make a soufflé

5. Watch the next season of Dr Who (The 12th Doctor!)

6. Read Man’s Search for Meaning

7. Get my ring fixed

8. Become a Colorado resident (yes, I know. I still have to do this.)

9. Learn to play at least two songs on the ukulele

10. Play tennis with Mom

11. Have divvi break 1,000 FB likes

12. Go to a meditation class

13. Try pole fitness

14. Become a regular at Ozo

15. Make or build a physical object

16. Mountain bike

17. (private)

18. Complete one full draft of Galatea

19. Join a club

20. Finish Rosetta Stone (French)

21. Travel for work

22. (private)

23. Do yoga regularly (+ once a week)

24. (private)

25. Go rock climbing

26. Pay off 1 student loan

27. Keep waking up early.

To be honest, I’m surprised I completed as much of last year’s list as I did. I’m under the impression that these lists are less to be completed than to look back and realize how far I’ve come.

And just because I’m a ripe ol’ 27 doesn’t mean I am going to stop getting irrationally excited about museums. Particularly when they involve model camels to sit upon.

CAMELCHAIR
It’s not a party unless there’s a CAMELCHAIR

What do you want to do this year?