Denali February 2004

TA’s Denali Support Team #20 2/27/2005
Happy Almost March to All,

Rest weeks are funny animals…they are both easy and hard, fun and not fun, a lived experiential paradox. I slept in every day last week until my body started waking on it’s own without an alarm-I took that as a sign I’d caught up. On Friday morning, I made it to yoga class for the first time all week. My teacher didn’t recognize me at first since I was so bright-eyed and bushy tailed. I even took to hopping up and down while waiting for class to begin as my body exuded energy from every pore. During a training week, I usually slink into class and hope for a lot of horizontal time on the mat-often falling quickly to sleep in child’s pose if I’m not careful.

Even though it was a rest week, I kept up my running schedule-though I did skip one set of intervals in honor of rest. Tuesday I ran for 60 minutes, Wednesday I ran hill repeats, and yesterday I went for the longest run of my life to date (I love getting to set personal records each week-it’s very gratifying.)

Before the weekend, I hadn’t decided when I was going to do my long run since I was attending a workshop both days. After spending 7 hours sitting in a small room, I felt tired and dragged out. I came home, checked my e-mail, and I realized I had just about the right amount of time to pull off a run before my evening activity.

My other option was a nap. Hmmm….go outside and run for 2 hours or take a nap…..hmmmm…..take a nap or run for 120 minutes….hmmm…how to decide? Flip a coin? Consult the Tarot deck? Throw the Runes? Let the weather decide? Weather seemed like the best decision-making strategy…so I looked up the weather on the internet. This is what it said:

Wind Warning in Effect.

A few flurries. Local blowing snow. Wind southwest 40 km/h gusting to 60 except southwest 60 gusting to 100 near the coast. Low minus 5.

Cloudy with sunny periods. 60 percent chance of flurries. Wind southwest 40 km/h gusting to 70. High minus 1.

“Self,” I said…”What is the better preparation for Denali?”…the answer was easy…”The Wind Warning!” The weather was going to be worst right then so I quickly changed and headed out into the big blow. Of course, my next decision was where to run.

“Self,” I said…”What is the best running route to prepare for Denali?”…the answer was easy…”Run to Price Club!” So I headed out Forest Road and around Quidi Vidi Lake. The wind bellowed through the trees like a runaway freight train on the prairies. I swerved around all the twigs and small branches the trees threw at me and wondered if I should have my head examined. I turned right up White Hills Road and got a nice boost from a tail wind as I started up the six-kilometer hill. Up near Robin Hood Bay, the wind picked me up a few times and at once point, I raced a Tim Horton’s cup up the highway. Despite my valiant effort, the cup won.

As I neared Stavenger Drive on the Outer Ring Road, the wind swung round into my face and I bared the full brunt of the 100 km gusts. They would almost stop me and sometimes threatened to push me backwards. At points, I could lean forward into the wind and be held up. Each step forward marked a victory. Tears streaked down my face as the ice pellets stung my eyes and I tried to shrink under the non-existent brim of my pile hat. I pulled out my purple Barney over mitts since the wind was cutting through my thin gloves.

My view was reduced to a monochromatic white, grey, and black world. “I’m on the Muldrow Glacier!” I thought to myself (those cold induced delusions again) as I trudged along the snow-crusted highway. My high altitude (or is that attitude) revelry was soon interrupted by a florescent orange hockey ball lying on the side of the road. That unexpected splash of color broke open the illusion and I was back on Outer Ring Road making dawdling progress once again.

I ran up the exit ramp to Torbay Road and reveled in a momentary side wind thinking there might be some hope that I might get a break from the wind since I was turning for home. “Not so fast,” said the universe and the wind swung around again. At least the route was downhill at this point and I just had to avoid being run over by the Saturday afternoon traffic. Like a horse to the barn, it only took me half as long to run back to downtown so I had to invent another loop and run down to Mile One stadium and back to get my full run time in…

I used my freer time from the rest week to begin reading two books I’d been given…I think my friends are trying to tell me something 🙂 as both books deal with surviving in extreme situations. One book is called “Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance.” The second is called “Last Breath: Cautionary Tales from the Limits of Human Endurance.” I’ll keep you posted about what I learn.

Tomorrow begins three weeks in the frugal realm…thus named because one has to be frugal with one’s time to get all the training in…as it adds three extra sessions to the gym per week. No sleeping in this week!!!

Thanks to all who shared their stories and strategies of dealing with doubt. I loved receiving them and learning some new ways of thinking about doubt through the process. I’ve decided that it’s hard to live with doubt but you can’t live without it. As I read once, it’s not about getting rid of the butterflies in your stomach but getting them to fly in formation.

Have a good day and a good week (that’s what my high school principal said every Monday morning without fail for three years…Hi Mrs. Winton wherever you are)

Cheers, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #19 2/20/2005
Heartfelt Greetings to All,

February is the month of hearts and St. John’s is hosting the Scott Tournament of Hearts (Canada’s Women’s Curling Championship) so I’ve been thinking a lot about hearts of late. Through my training, I’ve become much more aware of my heart and how it changes over the course of a day or a moment. My resting pulse is about 45 these days so when I first wake up it hardly seems like my heart is beating at all. As I get up and go sit on my meditation cushion, it slowly rises to keep beat with my new position. When I go for a run, my heart triples and sometimes nearly quadruples its speed depending on the intensity of effort. I can tell when I’m fatigued because my heart rate goes up easily and I can tell when I’m rested because it is harder to raise. All this without my heart rate monitor which broke a few months ago and hasn’t returned from Timex yet.

My hockey team had a party Friday night after our game. They all were on best behavior because they didn’t know what might show up in my weekly e-mail. I told them not to worry…I only make fun of myself. I did think though, how important teamwork will be on the climb. For 30 days, the 15 of us will either be roped together or living in a small campsite that has been probed for crevasses. This requires excellent expedition behavior (EB). EB is what NOLS calls being a decent human being…going the extra mile, being compassionate, being kind, being helpful, doing more than your share, taking the lead, leading by doing, being flexible, rising up to meet challenges, etc., and it was one of the main criteria for being selected for the expedition. You had to prove that you could handle living in a tight group situation for days on end. So, I’m thankful to my hockey team(s) for giving me multiple opportunities to practice putting out 110%, skating hard, being humble, and giving all for the good of the team rather than oneself.

On my long run this morning, I was thinking about what I might write tonight and at first I was a bit stumped. The day to day training has become fairly routine, it’s about to be a rest week, and life seems to be moving steadily along…then I thought about the “D” word. Doubt. I want to write about doubt. I think we all have doubt(s). I know I do. I wonder… is doubt a feeling or a thought or both? Doubt helps me to train. Both physically and mentally. Probably spiritually as well.

When I first saw Denali last summer when she peaked her summit out from behind the blankets of cloud, I was filled first with awe and wonder and then staggering doubt. When I saw her massive flanks, I was instantly convinced I could never climb her-her stature being so big and requiring so much…I just gave up that dream that I’d carried for 10 years on the spot because of the wall of doubt that rose up within me. A few days later, we visited the Talkeetna Ranger Station and saw where mountaineers register before they attempt Denali…and a slight crack appeared in the solidity of the doubt.

I got back to St. John’s and pondered the climb. I looked up the dates on the internet. I decided to give myself a one-month “try-out.” Without telling a soul, I began to train. I began running one and one’s (running a minute/walking a minute), I got back into the gym, I started riding my bike everywhere…and I thought and I imagined and I faced the wall of doubt on a daily basis.

After four weeks of training-now being able to run four and one’s, I decide to make the leap of faith and sign on for the expedition. I know from past experience that it is easier to stay on a path when you tell people about the path-so I asked several of you to join my village of support-so that I would have folks to be accountable to when I didn’t feel like training and to have folks to turn to when the doubts got too heavy to carry on my own and to have folks with whom to share the experience. Now, fast forward seven months-I can now run 10 sets of 10 and 1’s, run 60 minutes continuously, lift 65 pounds above my head easily, fold myself into a relative pretzel, sit for an entire day in meditation…and I still think/feel doubt…it’s different now…it’s not so much about the physical…but often about the mental…and the cold.

I don’t think I can free myself from the doubt-what I can do is train myself to put it aside…when in meditation a thought comes up, I’ve been taught to say “thinking” and put the thought aside. Today I thought I could do the same with doubt…label it “doubting” and put it aside. Or offer it evidence to the contrary…that’s what months of training have given me and what I’ve earned through lots of hard work…lots of antidotes to the doubt. When doubt arises, I can call up a “sister image” to the doubt…I can remember having my legs waxed or paying for a sweatshirt with quarters or running for almost two hours in freezing rain and hold up that image up beside the doubt.

I don’t think I want to be without doubt and in reality, it’s an impossibility since everything is impermanent and nothing is truly certain-we just want it to be. So I must train mentally and spiritually to be able to stay within a space of uncertainty, of doubt, of fear, of discomfort…one because there is not much chance of escape once I’m on the mountain and two because it is doubt I fear most…if I can accept the doubt and not fight it, I’ll know I’ve done the true training I need to do.

So…a discourse on doubt…how do you deal with doubt? Got any secrets…let me know. It’s a rest week starting with sleeping in tomorrow. I’m pretty excited to rest and get stronger. Have a good week and keep your stick on the ice.

Thanks for listening/reading my weekly explorations.


PS…For folks in St. John’s…I will be doing a slide show about my travels in SE Asia at the Camera 35 club meeting on Thursday night (Feb. 24…4 months to my birthday 🙂 at 8:00 pm. The club meets on the MUN campus in the science building in room 4015 (in the biochemistry wing). Let me know if you need more information. I’ll also be doing a show later in the spring about my travel in Buddhist lands-so if you can’t make this one there will be another chance.

TA’s Denali Support Team #18 2/13/2005
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Week Two of Round Two of the Cosmic Yang is rapidly coming to a close and the beginning of the next week is less than eight hours away. A full training week with several highlights…Tuesday’s minutes are forever intervals around Quidi Vidi Lake, Wednesday’s step class with a backpack for the first time, and Sunday’s long run in the freezing rain and ice pellets.

The purple over mitts came in handy again this morning as I headed out for my 9 mile long run. It was one of those mornings where I knew it best not to hesitate…because hesitation is a fertilizer for doubt. Why would I have doubt? Because it was 7:15 am on a Sunday morning, after a lovely party until late the night before, the wind was howling at 50 km/hr, freezing rain was covering the road ways and ice pellets in the predicted future…I saddled my water bottles with Gatorade, put on my green wind pants, black toque, bright red shell, and purple over mitts and headed out into the maelstrom (YES-I am a fashion diva!!!).

The footing was surprisingly good but the wind was wicked…making me wish I’d put on my 7-color neck gator (would have been the perfect fashion accent that tied the whole outfit together). Within seconds, I was soaked through and began to wonder if I would last the entire 100 minutes. At one point, my shell was so coated in ice, it was hard to move my arms-I thought I might have to get in the shower with my clothes one to get them off my body.

It was another of the ridiculous to the sublime moments…it was so stupid yet so satisfying to be out there…I saw nary another soul while I was out except folks poking their eyes out barely scraped car windshields. As the run wore on, the temperature must have raised by a degree or two transforming the freezing rain to a deep soaking rain. I hadn’t thought I could get much wetter…but I could, much wetter in fact. I thought it was great preparation for the 27 miles slog across the tundra to the base of McKinley. It’s likely to be quite rainy and cold during that time…getting everything soaked just in time to start camping in the snow on the Muldrow Glacier.

By the time my run finished, no part of me was dry. I climbed into the shower and thought my skin was going to melt when the barely warm water felt scalding against my deeply chilled skin. Despite a lovely shower and huge cup of tea, my body proceeded to “afterdrop.” The wonderful condition, where after coming in from exertion in the cold, one’s body forgets how to generate heat…a few cups of tea later, I finally warmed up. Again, wonderful training for Denali since anyone who has spent time on the mountain sums it up by saying, “it’s cold!”…” no, it’s f__cking” cold.

This was a week where most of the training felt easy. As a result, I upped poundages in the gym and added my backpack to step class. If I thought buying things with quarters was good for funny looks, try walking into the field house with your backpack on and going to step class. I tried to act unphased…act like this was something I do everyday…people stopped in their tracks on the track to stare, others delayed their pilgrimage to Tim’s to stop and watch, still others gaped with mouths ajar. I just smiled and kept on stepping. I had to have my towel handy because I was such a big sweat…nothing like adding 25 pounds to one’s body…

This was also a week where many people commented on how small I’d become…this is a very different experience for me as I’ve never considered myself small…I hit my growth spurt early in life and have been this height since age 10…I knew my body had been changing through all of this intensive training and I knew none of my pants fit anymore…but I was bit surprised to learn that I’d lost 15 pounds since training began…especially with the hungry bear who demands to be fed on a frequent schedule these days…so I realized adding the backpack was only a 10 pound net gain and suddenly it all seemed much lighter…

Actually I spent much of the week thinking about perception and how, how we perceive things influences how we feel about a given activity…take going out for a long run in the freezing rain in a post party, less than ideal sleep induced fog…I expected to suffer with a capital “S.” I initially perceived the conditions as inhospitable bordering on ridiculous but the longer I stayed out there (and the more hypothermic I became), the more beautiful everything looked. The slight brightening of the morning light jumped across the ice covered branches, ice pellets skidded and danced across the road before drowning in the growing rivers and lakes overtaking the roads, and even the wind played a symphony as it howled through the trees…if I’d stayed with my original perception, I would have fought the experience the whole way, instead by surrendering to it and remaining open, it became moment after moment of joy (yes, I know hypothermia can make one delusional).

After the run, I headed off to my second day of a meditation weekend. From 100 minutes of running to hundreds of minutes of sitting still…a good balance and good practice for sitting out 5-6 days of storms on Denali where all one can do is sleep, shovel, and heat snow into drinking water. Learning to meditate has given me a great capacity for sitting still (I know many of you think that seems like a grand paradox…TA and sitting still…but it’s true…hours and hours of sitting still…who’s of thunk it just 6 months ago?

So, I’m heading into my third and final week of cosmic yang with more energy that I usually have by this point so that’s a real gift…especially since I wasn’t the best last week at finding my bed at a reasonable hour…which I’m going to try to do tonight.

I hope you had a week you enjoyed or at least a week you learned a lot from-what’s new with you? Thanks for coming along…I love having you at my side (or behind me kicking my butt or in front of me pulling me along or reaching back to help you get catch up.)

Cheers, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #17 2/6/2005
Happy Super Bowl to All,

400 quarters dominated my week. Yup. Count ’em. Four quarters to a dollar, ten dollars to a roll…40 quarters in a roll…10 rolls…400 quarters. Everything I purchased this week, I bought with quarters… wearing gortex overmitts. I have to admit that the sales clerks generally didn’t know what to do with me. They tried not to stare. They tried not to be impatient. They tried not to act like I was weird. I bought a new hoodie yesterday. $22.75. 91 quarters. Thank the goddess no one was in line behind me. All counted out in groups of four, then piled two across, all with the manual dextrity of a goat or other ungulate (always wanted to use the word ungulate in one of these e-mails).

You may have heard of “But Nothing” day…many times I thought my best strategy this week would be “Buy Nothing Week.” But then I needed bananas. Or a religious experience at Tim’s. Imagine me at the mall trying to get the sandwich combo at Tim’s with 16 million people behind me, counting out $6.08 in quarters in purple overmitts. I would have made Barney proud. Not to mention wearing an additional five pounds to step class or out on the hockey ice…I carried the quarters in my waist pack and prayed to the hockey gods that the zipper not open while I was taking a slap shot-just think of the joy of picking up 70 quarters from slightly damp ice…now there would be a ring of fire. Patience. Willingness to be different. Manual dexerity. Stategic planning. That’s all what I learned from my week of small change and big mitts.

Other than that, the Cosmic Yang kept me busy and strong. A root canal on Friday kicked my butt and enforced a rest day on Saturday. Some freezing rain cancelled my second winter overnight for Saturday night and it’s late and the alarm is going to ring at six to start the whole thing all over again. I moved my little climber up on the Wickersham Wall to February and noticed how quickly time is passing once again.

I hope this e-mail finds you happy engaged in whatever you are doing this moment (which is probably reading this e-mail). Have a good week.

With appreciation for all of you,


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