Denali October 2004

TA’s Denali Support Team # 5 10/31/2004
Happy Halloween!

That seems like a most appropriate greeting after a week of dressing up. It had a great week…here’s how it went…


The last big day of preparations…Leo was an amazing fashion mentor. We went off to the mall in search of panty hose, hair color and big decisions: reinforced toe or sandlefoot? (Answer…one of each) Black or beige? (Answer…one of each) What do you do if you have the height of size B and the girth of size C? (Answer…should have bought D as C seemed like it was designed to fit someone 3 feet 6) Rosewood or Caribbean Mahogany (Answer…Rosewood but why am I trying to have my hair imitate a tree? A furthering of the forestry metaphor that began during the waxing adventure? Come to think of it we do some pretty funny things to our body hair…)

Leo just about fell off her chair when I confessed and then demonstrated that I DID know how to iron my clothes. I just about jumped out of my chair when she tried to apply eyeliner. I declared then and there that if I had to suffer eye liner torture than I wasn’t going to climb the bloody mountain-yes… eye liner was truly in the ring of fire. It was better when I took up the torture implement myself but when my eyes turned weepy, red and allergic I knew the gods were trying to tell me something. We went on to blush and eye shadow.


A day of novelty, fun and excitement…and a day of several life firsts. Let me start by saying that control top panty hose are a weapon of oppression. Any piece of clothing that requires a shoehorn to put on is highly overrated in my book and I practiced the fine art of dehydration all day as to not have to suffer pulling the control top on more than absolutely necessary. My Mom will be proud to know that I remembered how to put on panty hose without getting a run in them. I wonder if I could get a Kevlar reinforced pair though…I’m pretty hard on clothes.

Onto the firsts… The first time I wore shoes with 2.5-inch heels The first time I wore a dress in the Physical Education building The first time I went to a lumbar store in a dress (I got better service) The first time I went to a hockey arena and carried a hockey bag in a dress The first time I had such intense toe pain I thought I might have to amputate my digit

All of the folks I work with were very kind and complementary and at their insistence I began a tradition of daily walk-abouts to show off the day’s outfit.


A day of many clothes changes and a big glimpse of the ring of fire…”yesterday’s novelty is gone and the week stretches long before me. Even after a long search, I cannot find any part of “me” in today’s outfit.” I am uncomfortable. I am chafing. I am questioning. “Am I courageous enough to face this discomfort?” Then I remember something I heard in a recent meditation workshop…the idea of a view and footsteps. We have to have a view-an image of where we are going and footsteps to take us there. If we have only the view, we never move closer to what we are seeking and if we only have the footsteps, we may wonder as if lost. My view is Denali and my training (in all of its forms) is the footsteps. I imagine the first few days of glacier living will be filled with fun and novelty and at some point, life may transform into a place of discomfort in that white, cold world…that is what Tuesday was preparing me for…

Tuesday’s firsts… The first time I taught a class in a dress
The first time I sat on a desk and almost slid off (wasn’t used to the fabric)
The first time I gave thought to polypropylene as a dress fabric rather than as long underwear
The first time I knew that beige pantyhose are more comfortable than black
The first time my tattoo was visible to the world


A day of hitting my stride and my first very public appearance…one of my Value Village choices makes its debut as I was at a daylong research forum at the Battery Hotel. For a change…I fit right in…(I usually under-dress).


Thursday was declared “Official Skirt and Dress Day in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation.” In support of me, several folks joined in and dressed up for the day. I was very touched and enjoyed having company for the day. I’ve attached a group photo from the day…see if you can pick me out. Thursday I decided I must be a closet tap-dancer because I absolutely adore the clippity click sound my shoes make on the hallway floors. I experiment with different rhythms and paces and imagine a huge percussion ensemble of shoe wearers making music up and down the halls. Thursday was the day I realized that it was no longer a big deal to be wearing a dress, that it was kinda fun, kinda fancy and kinda me. I felt like I’d dropped a long-held rigidity about what I could and couldn’t wear and I imagined I might don Wednesday and Thursday’s outfits again.


The homeward stretch…a piece of cake…at this point I’m used to the routine of setting out my outfit the night before, choosing accessories, getting in and out of the car without snagging it and it’s no longer a big deal to me or anyone else. I know from past mountaineering adventures there are times you have to wear things you’d rather not…times when your glacier glasses feel dark and claustrophobic and you’d rather go snow-blind than wear them…times when your mitts feel bulky and clumsy and that you have the manual dexterity of an ungulate and you’d rather get frostbite than wear them…times where your crampons feel heavy and snag everything in sight and you’d rather fall in a crevasse than wear them…prior to this past week, I thought I’d rather get snowblindess, frostbite and a broken leg than wear a dress…now I know I don’t have to.


Training this week was a little easier than last through I still had to visit my friend “Will N. Determination” a few times to get off my butt and into the rain and snow. It’s the end of the Cosmic Yang program and onto a well-deserved rest week. I ran my last set of intervals this morning and am eager to heal a few sore and pulled spots. I’m off to Virginia to attend the Association of Experiential Education conference. I’ll do a few runs along the beach and maybe a lap or two in the hotel pool.

I booked my flight to Alaska yesterday. Wahoo!

Thanks to all who sent wonderful word of support and encouragement and exclamation this past week. Take care of yourself.


TA’s Denali Support Team # 4A 10/24/2004
Hello All Again,

I forgot to tell you the biggest news of the week-I got my offical acceptance for the Denali expedition. I also passed my expedition physical with flying colors (resting pulse of 50 in the doctor’s office) so I think it is a go…hooray…bring on the ring of fires!

I’m attaching a pdf file with the course/expedition description in case any of you are interested…

Cheers, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team # 4 10/24/2004
Happy Nine Months to my Birthday to All,

(I do like to celebrate my birthday 12 times a year 🙂

Training and other Assorted Acts of Will

How’s it going, eh? How was your week? Anything new and exciting happen? The countdown to my upcoming rest week has begun. I was quite tired this week-the cumulative fatigue of heavy training was catching up. On several occasions, I had to dig deep into the “well of will” to get the training done. Usually, daily discipline makes it easy to make it happen-just get up and do it…this week, however, required conscious decision-making on more than a few mornings. Usually once I got into action however, the serotonin took over and erased the fatigue and I was grateful to be moving and lifting and running and stretching and stepping and swimming. I also took a few sessions off to rest and recovery and nap as needed.

The Village People

A few people joined to the village this week….so here are their intros …someone who… is a yoga teacher teases me about my Shona language ability (or lack thereof) supervised another big “Denali” in my life-my dissertation proofreads a 100 times better than I

If you are forwarding these e-mails to anyone else-that’s great and fine by me-drop me a line so I can know who else might need welcoming to the village. And as always, if you ever want to stop being a part of al this, let me know and I’ll take you off the e-mail list. This village is strictly challenge by choice (or perhaps more aptly, e-mail by choice).

Life in the Ring of Fire

Some of you have asked about “why the ring of fire?” I’ll turn to the words of two experts/philosophers from the field of experiential education to answer that question. John Dewey, considered by many to be the father of experiential education, said “growth depends on the presence of a difficulty to be overcome.” Kurt Hahn, the father of the Outward Bound schools said something similar…

“Without self discovery, a person may still have self confidence, but it is a self confidence built on ignorance and it melts in the face of heavy burdens. Self discovery is the end product of a great challenge mastered, when the mind commands the body to do the seemingly impossible, when strength and courage are summoned to extraordinary limits for the sake of something outside the self – a principle, an onerous task, another human life.”

So, the ring of fire challenges (as well as climbing Denali) will provide many opportunities for my mind to command my body to do the seemingly impossible and for plenty of self-discovery along the way.

I recently attended a workshop where I was led in a guided meditation to find my animal totems. I connected instantly to the otter. Otters are playful, curious, and get food all over their bellies-just like me. Otters are fur-bearing animals as am I…or at least I was until last Wednesday when I plunged into the burning ring of fire. My friend, Jen, offered to wax my legs to get me ready for the big ring of fire task of a week of wearing dresses. I was a little worried by how gleeful she seemed at the task but when she said the effects of waxing would last longer than shaving, I was an immediate convert and accepted the invitation.

As the week wore towards Wednesday, nervousness passed likes choppy waves through my being. Would it hurt? Could I handle it? What would it be like to have my precious fur ripped from its follicles? Each day, I gave my leg hairs a sharp tug, “Yup-it’s gonna hurt,” I concluded. People told me their waxing horror stories. Others wished me luck. Others shock their heads in disbelief.

One thing I’ve learned in life is to pay attention to the advice of experts. Jen, my waxing expert, told me it was critical to exfoliate my legs prior to waxing to decrease the amount of pain…she implored “scrub your legs with a loofah to get them ready.” Of course with my training schedule, extra time to procure a loofah escaped me and Wednesday snuck up like a blizzard in October and I had 30 minutes to exfoliate before my appointment at Legs by Lokash. What was I to do? Risk extra pain and suffering by showing up with dead skin clinging to my legs? Arrive late having crossed town on a pilgrimage to Loofah? Do some creative problem-solving?

No doubt you know which I picked. In the waning moments, I brainstormed what I had in the house that resembled a loofah…a cheese grater… no, it would leave divots….60 grit sandpaper… no, it would leave no skin…Chore Boy Green Scrubby…yes, that’s it…I rushed down to my camping gear room, grabbed a new green scrubbing pad and hit the shower. 15 minutes later I appeared at Jen’s doorstep with glowing red legs and not a stitch of used skin. I was nervous. I was psyched for the pain. I was ready.

Jen created the perfect atmosphere…soft lighting, soft soothing music, red wine and Red Sox baseball on TV…with all this…could waxing be all that bad? As I was a novice waxee and since I had huge forests of old growth leg hair, Jen suggested that I start by trimming my hair with scissors. I quipped that I was putting in the logging roads so that she could come in and clear cut my forests…as I’m not the best at repetitive minute tasks, I quickly tired of clipping and asked her to get on it with it…she handed me a bullet to bite on and said we would start with a small patch. She spread the warm wax and pine pitch mixture on my shorn leg (as on outdoor educator, I’m always happy to learn new uses for pine pitch), she rubbed on the cotton like swatch and then gave it a quick snapping tug. Suddenly, my leg was virgin white and I giggled giddily and said…”Is that it?” “Where’s the big pain?” “Where’s the suffering?” “I meditated for days to get ready for this?”

60 minutes later I was no longer fur-bearing on the lower half of my body. I gained new appreciation for the intricacies of lower leg anatomy and I could hardly recognize my legs as my own. Like the women I interviewed last winter about their hockey experiences, I suddenly felt like I gained access to a culture I knew nothing about. Instead of discussing the finer points of slap shots versus snap shots, I could now wax eloquently about the pros and cons of waxing, identity several different waxing products, and I realized that would wax again (or at least have Jen do it.)

What does waxing have to do with climbing Denali? Good question. I think the biggest lesson I took from this week’s experience is that anticipation is often worse than the reality…to take each moment as it comes…and to surround oneself with knowledgeable experts.

So, with smooth legs by Jen, shoes by Lisa, outfits by Leslie, Deb and Value Village, make-up by Leo, I am ready to face this week’s ring of fire. I’m sure there will be many stories to tell by the end of next week…

Until then, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team # 3 10/17/2004
Greetings to All,

Thanks to all who submitted Ring of Fire ideas…I’ve got some good challenges in front of me. Wearing a dress for a week, with shaved legs, panty hose, and eye make-up is the first challenge out of the hat-I’ll spend this upcoming week finding or borrowing some dresses, securing supplies, practicing hair removal, etc. and then I will begin the challenge later in the week or next week. Some additional challenges to look forward to include playing a hockey game with a left-handed stick (opposite to my usual one), sleeping out for at least a week in winter, ironing my entire clothing supply including underwear, singing Johnnie Cash’s Ring of Fire at Tol’s Karaoke Lounge, and plunging my body into the ocean. My own Ring of Fire assignment for myself is to practice impeccable self-care and self-compassion. Keep sending those Ring of Fire ideas my way.

I had a good week of training. Thursday’s intervals almost seemed easy this week and today after my long run, I felt like I could and wanted to keep running. Saturday’s rest day was well appreciated!

As I train, I sometimes have conversations with you, sometimes with specific individuals, others times with the group of you as a whole. Not a day goes by where I am not grateful to have you along on this journey with me. I feel very well supported and cared for by you-my village, my sangha, my community…I appreciate your presence and words of encouragement.

At the moment, there are about 65 folks who receive these e-mails…some have known me since I was born, others since I was 12, 19, or 27…others I’ve met in the past weeks or months…I thought I might introduce you to each other in a novel way…I will describe something about each of you and you can try to find yourself in the list…

In my village, there is someone who…

Has studied experiential education
Is a rabid basketball fan
Is an artist and outdoor educator
Wrote her thesis with me at 5 am almost every morning for a year
Calls me her tormentor while going to the gym three days a week with me Can make almost anything happen
Made a hockey film with me last spring
Is a cousin who looks like my twin
Is someone who knows what TA stands for
Stores my sea kayak for me
Knows the layers of the Grand Canyon better than I do
Has a voracious appetite for alternative media
Makes photographic art on a computer scanner
Never leaves her clothes alone in my presence
Trained my palette in the subtleties of red wine
Coached my teaching dossier
Ran a marathon recently
Is contemplating a career in the Ivory Tower
Can cook 45 different dishes on a camp stove
Climbed on the Mexican volcanoes with me
Took National Lifeguard training with me
Had a life-changing time while in the Grand Canyon
Is mourning the Red Sox’s curse
Rode motorcycles with me in the desert
Teaches women’s studies
Likes electronic toys more than me
Will someday accept a trip invitation from me
Is making a film about Nepal
Opened the first and only rockclimbing gym in Newfoundland
Was almost drowned by the “brick” in Award of Merit
Loves rockclimbing and sushi
Recently upgraded my jeans collection
Is my twin sibling born six years too late
I ran the Race for the Cure for
Likes camping with guns
Keeps me in surgical scrubs
Keeps in blue surgical towels for skate drying
Ate more asado than I did in Argentina
Helped secure the music for Newfoundlanders Away
Let me adopt her father
Is about to face her own “Denali”
Organizes hockey games
Plays guitar at kitchen parties
Has lived in Zimbabwe and Canada
Helps run Mountain Equipment Co-op
Weaves beautiful things
Taught me much about the geology of Arizona
Was beside me when I first saw Denali
Has worked with polar bears and seals
Has taught in public school
Is a goalie and a doctor
Is a parent
Hikes the East Coast Trail regularly
Meets me for long philosophical breakfasts
Co-taught a course with me
Owes me a hot fudge sundae
Is a Buddhist
Made a film with me 20 years ago
Is climbing through a personal “Red Wall” at the moment
Owes me a spring for a fly swatter
Goes to more step classes than I do
Is the Team Captain
Was an amazing Momma Duck

I’m hoping and guessing that you will find yourself in many of the above descriptions…I’ve had such a fun and profound time imagining all of the connections and noticing that we are all in this together.

Gotta hit the hay-the training week starts again tomorrow.

Take good care! TA

TA’s Denali Support Team # 2 10/10/2004
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to All,

Thanks to all who sent pictures and quotes for my Wickersham Wall-it?s coming along nicely. I first put the outline of Denali on the wall using black electrical tape-it looked beautiful. For about 20 minutes. Then the tape began to release from the wall and I wondered what message the universe was sending me. I spent the rest of the day reapplying the tape over and over again. Two rolls of tape later, I knew I needed a different plan. The next day, with water-soluble marker in hand, the mountain came to life again. It felt mischievous and fun to be drawing on the walls ? the first time since I was a budding mural artist at four. Please keep the pictures and inspirational bits coming the Wickersham Wall is a mural of folk art in the making.

I?’ve had a great week being back into training. As each day?s new challenges unfolded, I could sense the newfound strength that I gained during the rest week. My new Cosmic Yang program presented lots of plyometric jumping adventures and whole body lifts to develop power and strength while training my body to flush the inevitable lactic acid build-up.

Along with new strength, I?m gaining great skills in rapid fashion metamorphosis. Take Tuesday for example, I changed clothes more often than paradigms. I woke up in pajamas, changed into street clothes, put on my swim suit, swam, showered, dressed in old clothes for clay class, played with mud, changed into my Pilates outfit, developed core muscles, changed into work clothes, worked (yes I do, do some of that), changed into running clothes, ran, changed into hockey gear, skated and felt joy, changed into street clothes, ate dinner, changed into pajamas, fell into bed. Dreamed of kaleidoscopes and Imelda Marcos.

After Tuesdays numerous changes, I was open to anything during Thursday?s intervals. This week?s intervals were called ?Minutes are Forever.? And sometimes they were. As I ran the 20-minute warm-up, I was quite convinced the new interval assignment was impossible. I was instantly overwhelmed by the enormity of task in front of me. It was a metaphor in the making and I knew I had to bring my focus to the present moment rather than worrying about what was in front of me. As I was asked in Africa, ?how do you eat an elephant?? ?One bite at a time, of course? was the answer. How did I run Thursday?s intervals? One minute at a time! How will I climb Denali? One step at a time.

Here?s how Thursday?s intervals went…(from my training journal)

?Quite a morning with intervals-my quads are dead-screaming, yelling, pouting, full of lactic acid and I am way proud…75 minutes of running…20 minute warm-up, 20 minutes of 1 min in zone 3, 1 walking, 10 minutes running, 20 minutes of 1 min in zone 3, 1 walking, then 5 running then 10 walking home…too many thoughts and images to capture a very cool process of dread turning into flying into perserverence into oh shit into dread into I don’t think I can do it into flying to oh shit to hang on to wow to ah to whew to oh shit to dread to aren’t those nice ducks and a pretty sunrise to oh shit to I’m slowing down into just make it to that tree to ah to pain to one more to wow, I actually did it to I?m not sure my legs will get me home to jeez, it?s only 7:30 am.?

Climbing Denali will require much of me. I imagine there will be times where I will be cold, frightened, and uncomfortable, etc. To be ready for what the mountain will ask of me, I want to practice being ?In the Ring of Fire.? This is where you come in!!!

I want you to send me ?Ring of Fire? ideas. Put on your thinking caps. Remember back to past episodes of Survivor or Fear Factor. Think about what you know about my edges and comfort zones and come up with tasks or challenges for me to do to push my comfort envelope.

When I mentioned this to one friend, she said quickly ?I’?ll make you wear a dress for a week.? Another friend replied, ?you should ride your bike EVERYWHERE for a month.? A third said, ?I want you to sing in public.? So, I hope this will prime the pump on your lateral, creative, and naughty thinking and that you will send me your best ?Ring of Fire? ideas. I’?ll put them in a hat and draw out challenges at random and no doubt they will lead to some interesting life lessons and excellent stories to tell.

Thanks for all your messages of support, your questions, and your ideas. I hope all is going well on your end. Keep me posted.

Until next time, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team # 1 10/2/2004
Hello and Welcome to All,

Thanks to all for jumping aboard my support team. I appreciate having you in my corner, around the block, over yonder and beyond. Several folks have asked me what I’m doing for training so I thought I’d start by sharing that.

I imagine my training will evolve and shift over time but for now I’m using a program called “Total Body Transformation” by Steve Ilg. He is a world champion outdoor athlete. His program combines strength training, cardio, yoga, meditation, and nutrition. It is grouped into four-week blocks separated by one week rest periods. I’m currently luxuriating in the last days of my first rest week.

The first four weeks are called the “Green Tara” and they welcome and introduce you to the program. The next four weeks are called the “Cosmic Yang” and he’s going to up the training somewhat. I’ve been training 15 hours a week exclusive of hockey (hockey doesn’t count in my book since it is pure joy most of the time).

What does it look like in daily life…Monday, Wednesday and Friday…hitting the gym from 7-8 am, yoga from 8-9 and step aerobics from 1-2 pm…Tuesday swim from 7-8 am, pilates at noon, and run in the evening, Thursdays, run intervals from 7-8, pilates at noon, swim in the evening….weekends….one long run and 2-3 other hours of sustained cardio. Throw in a little meditation every morning at 6 and hockey most evenings and you’ve got my training week and an understanding of why rest weeks are important.

The research shows we actually get stronger at rest so that why no activities are scheduled on consecutive days (except hockey-it doesn’t count) and why rest weeks are allotted every fifth week. I’m actually chomping at the bit to get back at it on Monday. So far, the intervals have been my most challenging teacher. In the Green Tara program, they involved running up the back of Signal Hill. One morning I had an educative (love that word) experience with dog crap…I came home and wrote the following piece.

Some Realizations Sponsored by Dog Crap…

Thursdays mean intervals. Intervals are another word for suffering. They involve running uphill at close to max heart rate for 5 one-minute intervals and then running uphill for 3 three minute intervals at 85% of max heart rate. Basically-it’s one big sucking wind experience that humbles the body, mind and soul. Someday, I’ll tell you about how I find sucking wind quite challenging but that’s for another time.

Today I did my usual warm up route-up to the back to Signal Hill where I start the intervals. The past few Thursdays I choose to run the interval (1 minute) up the hill, then keep walking up the hill during the rest interval (1 minute). Today I had a leading to walk down the hill during the rest interval…I followed that leading and this is what transpired.

The first interval…I ran very hard and got a ways up the hill. Near the end of the minute, I passed some dog crap. I noted it in my mind. Beeper rang, I walked down hill past the dog crap-not quite back to the spot where I started.

The second interval…Ran hard, passed the dog crap earlier in the run, got higher up the hill. Beeper rang, walked down past the dog crap again but not as far down as interval one.

The third interval…sucking big wind, passing dog crap, getting higher on the hill…I realized that I was enjoying running the same strip of hill trail over and over again-a new experience-have always liked circle routes more than out and back noticed that I kept passing the same dog crap over and over again… had some universal sense that we are all passing by dog crap-it was metaphoric connection to our issues/burdens/stuck spots…also some sense of dog crap as karma and needing to pass it by several times until we are done with it.

The fourth interval…really sucking big wind, passed the doggie doo, got higher on hill…realized that passing the same way, passing the dog crap filled me with a sense of comfort, surrender and acceptance instead of shame and disappointment…with each interval, I passed the dog crap sooner and easier than the time before…

The fifth interval…feeling like my lungs were going to escape through my nose, heart beating like wildfire, leaping over the doggie crap-celebrate the end of the 1 minute intervals…take the rest period to walk all the way to the bottom of the hill…

Begin again…running uphill…slightly slower for much longer…have a new definition for suffering… keep feet moving…pass the dog crap…rejoice…keep feet moving…

Repeat two more times…get to highest spot on the hill today…think I’ve finally passed the dog crap for good…look down…there is a new pile of dog crap to pass…

In the writing, it doesn’t seem nearly as profound as it felt at the time…there was just such a sense of relief and compassion in the moment of realization of universal dog crap…that and surrendering into going over the same ground over and over again but moving a bit further forward each time…both were quite moving and filled me with joy and excitement….so much excitement that I ran my entire route back over the same ground rather than using my usual circle route. Life lessons come in many forms…though never did I think that dog crap could teach me so much.

So think of me next Thursday as I begin the newest set of intervals called ?I Never Knew a Minute Could be so Long.? Steve really likes names. I like acronyms.

There is a wall just outside my office. I?ve called it the Wickersham Wall-after one of the faces on Denali. The Wickersham Wall, on the north side of McKinley, is one of the largest mountain faces in the world. It rises 14,000 feet from the Peters Glacier to the 19,740-foot North Peak. The Wickersham Wall is often shown in photographs of Denali. The wall is named after Judge James Wickersham, one of the climbers who made the first attempt to summit Denali in 1903.

On the wall, I?ve got pictures of Denali and I?d like to put up some inspirational quotes and pictures on it. If you are willing, would you send me or e-mail me your picture so I can put it up on the wall it will become a concrete representation of my support team and my commitment to the climb.

Thanks again for joining me in the journey. It?s already moving me to new heights. Keep me posted about your own ?Denali?s,? let me know if I can be helpful, and take care along the way.

Warmly, TA

PS If at any point, you wish to stop receiving these e-mails, just let me know.

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