Denali March 2005

TA’s Denali Support Team #24 3/28/2005
Happy Easter!!!

I hope the Easter Bunny was good to you. I had been concerned that the Easter Bunny wouldn’t find me this year since I spent last week at a meditation retreat. I didn’t know if the Easter Bunny visited Buddhist Sanghas…my worry was for not as I awoke to the delight of Easter eggs dropped lovingly across the meditation cushions and one even found it’s way unto Buddha’s lap. As I sat the final sessions of meditation yesterday, I could reach down beside me and pop a few mini eggs into my mouth and pay complete and undivided attention to the glorious descent of melted chocolate through my body. I frequently quote my meditation instructor as saying one can take anything as the object of meditation and so yesterday, I meditated and contemplated Easter eggs to the Nth degree.

Wow-a whole paragraph and I haven’t mentioned a Vanilla Dip yet…managed to get a few last week when I had to return to the everyday world and teach my classes…vanilla dips eased the transitions. I was helping a grad student today and she said, “I bet you need a donut since you were on retreat last week.” I didn’t fess up to having had two last week. Anyway, she was very kind and fetched me two…it’s going to be a long week since I’ve already had my allotment of VD.

Last week was a rest week in terms of training. I’d organized my entire winter training schedule so the retreat week would require minimal training. It was fun being out at Sunshine Camp and having new running routes to check out. My friend Vera lives out near there…during my four runs, I kept thinking of the slogan “in God’s Country” and I kept thinking “I’m in Vera’s country.” Saturday I ran for 2.5 hours…leaving Sunshine Camp and running down to St. Phillips, up and over to Portugal Cove and then back up around to Broad Cove Road back to Sunshine Camp. I checked the distance yesterday-it was 21 KM-a bit shorter than I expected but I think the 5 and 6 km hills took their toll on pace. I really find running to be meditative these days.

I spent some of the week contemplating my parallel journeys towards Denali and towards Buddhism. The seeds for both expeditions were planted long ago but the conditions necessary for such growth came to fruition last August and the seeds took root. Since August, the trail has led towards both and the evolution required for each one has synergistically supported the other. So Saturday, I took a big step over a large crevasse and took refuge vows. Taking refuge vows is how one becomes a Buddhist and is akin to making a final payment on a Denali expedition…it commits one (i.e. me) to the Buddhist path. As part of the ceremony, I received a Buddhist name from my teacher, Moh Hardin. In Tibetan, my Buddhist name is Tsultrim Mig Gya…it means Discipline Great Vision and describes some direction of the path ahead. I like that it starts with a “T” and ends with an “A.” 🙂 And I think it very aptly describes how I take on grand adventures, challenges, and projects…with discipline and vision.

I was back in the gym this morning-enjoying what fresh muscles can lift and how excited I was to be back with the iron. Only two training cycles left until the mountain…eek…terror…whew….holy s–t…wow…oh my god… oh ya I’m a Buddhist now-I don’t do god anymore…holy meditation cushion…argh…shoot…ahhhhhhhhh… time flies when you are training hard…I’ll be ready…she’s says trying to convince herself…

Have a good week,

Warmly, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #23 3/20/2005
Happy Equinox! Happy Spring!

As I was growing up, my Dad offered many pithy slogans to think about…this morning as I ran and contemplated what I might write about today…one of his favorite sayings came to mind…”Thousands of others wouldn’t believe you, but I do.” This came to mind because I felt like I needed to confess to you that I’m actually a couch potato. Yup. Yes. Affirmative. You betcha. Undeniably so. I know you might have trouble believing this… so I thought of offering you my father’s wisdom so you could decide which camp, to camp in. Those that believe or those who do not.

Sofa spud. That’s me. Left to my own innate way of being…I might never move or breathe hard. I don’t have any natural drive towards exercise (I see you shaking your head)…so I asked myself…

”If you are a couch potato, how do you pull off all this training?”

“Good question,” I answered.

“Routine, discipline, and Pavlovian Vanilla Dips,” I replied once I had a chance to think.

(Just had to get a VD reference in there)

(It’s funny to write a dialogue with oneself.)

I put exercise dates in my day planner, I sign up for classes, I play on teams…I make it hard for myself not to show up…that’s the routine part…kinda like a 34 countries in 34 day European tour….if it’s Monday, it’s the gym, yoga, step and hockey…if it’s Thursday, it’s a tempo run, Pilates, and a swim. Then there is the discipline part…this is the follow through…the keeping the dates I put in my day planner…choosing to rush and make the class rather than take it easy, seeing a potential conflict and switching the long run to Thursday to make it happen, and often relying on another of my Dad’s lines “work first, play later.”

Finally, Pavlov was right. Operate conditioning works wonders. I reward myself intermittently for sticking with it…breakfast at Zacch’s after a long run, a vanilla dip after a hard work-out in the gym, a massage after a training cycle, a life changing experience after 8 months of hard training…often I plan rewards and never take myself up on them…I celebrate victories and use compassion when I falter…I recognize that I’ve been climbing Denali since August and all of this is the path, the trail, and the way. It all leads up and back from the mountain and to moments of great inspiration, moments of great joy, moments of great suffering and moments of everything in between.

The soothsayer said to Julius Caesar, “Beware the ides of March.” Rather than being just one day, the whole last week felt like the ides of March. It was a tough week in the world of training. My body was tired. My mind was tired. My spirit was tired. My inner couch potato was crying out for recognition (thus my confession). I had to ask my two buddies, Will and Determination, to pay visits on several occasions to ensure that I showed up for training commitments. I was actually grateful for how hard it was…a funny attitude I know, but I think it makes sense to practice moving through exhaustion and overwhelm.

My first climbing instructor, Mr. Hamilton, taught me how to rock climb and set up anchor systems. He taught me the figure-eight knot that is used to tie into the rope. Once I had mastered the knot, he made me tie it with my eyes closed. Then behind my back. Then behind my back with my eyes closed. Then in a hurry. Then standing on one foot. Then standing on one foot, with eyes closed, rope behind my back. Then during a downpour, then during a blizzard, and then during a simulated emergency…you get the picture.

When training is hard, I’m practicing for when the mountain will be hard. It’s often easy to be upbeat and cheery when all is going my way…the true test is if I can be upbeat and cheery when everything is going against me…when I’m swimming against currents of self-doubt, exhaustion, or pain…when I’d rather give up than get up…when I’d rather sleep in than run 140 minutes before breakfast…

Friday I took a huge step towards Denali. I paid the rest of the expedition fee. I made my single largest visa purchase ever…I took away my last out. I’m now committed in every possible way. I’m going to the mountain and I’m glad you are going along there with me. And yes, I did celebrate the occasion with a vanilla dip…I only had two last week. My friend, Alison, said my piece about vanilla dips as edible prayer flags was the finest piece of justification she’s ever read…I sent that piece to Tim’s Corporate headquarters…I never heard back…I guess I was secretly hoping they would want to jump on board as the official Vanilla Dip supplier to the expedition. Okay, I think that is four references to the greatest donut on earth…I’d better stop for now before you start throwing things at me…

It’s a rest week upcoming and I’m off to a week-long meditation retreat where my inner couch potato can bask in stillness and inactivity. Have a good week and enjoy the ever-increasing light (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere).

With gratitude to you, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #22 3/13/2005
Happy Almost Ides of March,

I cannot believe it is Sunday again…where did that week go? Thinking about it…it went to several trips to the gym, a bunch of runs, step class, hockey games, and yes…even a little work here and there. On Friday, I was in the gym doing hang cleans-on of my favorite gym moves-I’ve mentioned it before. I figured maybe I was ready to move up to the next barbell so I reached past the 55-pound bar for the 66 pound one. I pick it up and hold it at mid thigh level, focus, take an inhalation and then on the exhale, pull/jerk the weight up past my shoulders to full extension over my head…it’s an exhilarating move and when all the right forces come together-the bar seems to float up…so I tried it with the new weight…and it worked…I did 10 sets of 6 reps…so I threw 66 pounds over my head 60 times…for a grand total of about 4000 pounds…so, in the space of 15 minutes or so, I lifted the equivalent of two Volkswagen beetles over my head…pretty good for 7:15 AM on a Friday morning.

I swear I’m not on the Tim Horton’s payroll. Last week, my Tim’s habit was a tad bit out of control (6 visits in 7 days) but I have a very good reason for such indulgence. As you know, eating a Vanilla Dip is akin to a religious experience for me. I’m so well know at the campus Tim’s outlet that I can walk up and order “a large tea with milk and a religious experience” and they know exactly what I’m talking about. So, there I was, talking on the phone in my office…my office being draped by a cacophony of Tibetan prayer flags and on my door is a picture of a Vanilla Dip…

I’m talking away and suddenly it hits me…that the colors of sprinkles on a Vanilla Dip are very similar to those on the prayer flags…and that, if one stretches here with me a bit…that then therefore…a Vanilla Dip could be reframed as an edible prayer flag…whose prayers are not released by the wind but by eating them…and viola…suddenly I’m not eating Vanilla Dips for my own benefit alone, I’m eating Vanilla Dips on behalf of all sentient beings…thus explaining my amazing visitation statistics for last week…I was taking them for the team…the way big team.

When I first moved to St. John’s, I joined the Avalon Ground Search and Rescue team. We had our weekly training meetings out on Brookfield Road at the Forest Ecology/Jr. Forest Warden Headquarters. The drive out there each week seemed interminable and so far out of town. Fast forward to yesterday…time to find a route for a 130 minute run…(yes, as someone pointed out I could drive to Clarenville in the same amount of time as I run these days). As I’ve been doing, I picked a destination…Bowering Park. I would run from home to Bowering Park along Waterford Bridge Road…sounded good, sounded far enough and off I went. The problem was…I got to Bowering Park and still needed to run for another 25 minutes before turning around… so…I keep running…visions of Forest Gump came into my mind…when I reached the Forest Ecology Center…I was floored…How did I get here under my own steam?

I go a bit further until the alarm tells me it’s time to turnaround and run back to town…Cabot Tower is a small speck in the distance…I notice that I’m out past the Mount Pearl Square theatre-the one I won’t drive to because it’s too far…and it hits me how far away from home I am…I didn’t know how far until later than day when I drove the route and measured the distance and I’m quite proud to report that I ran my first half-marathon yesterday…20 kilometers…13 miles…Pema Chodron wrote a book called “The Wisdom of No Escape” and that’s how I’ve been organizing my long runs of late…running away from home rather than loops so there is no escape along the way…practicing for the no-escape world of the north side of Denali…

I come from a family of gifted house cleaners but when the universe was handing out such talents I must have been at the back of the line. I’m not sure what came over me yesterday-perhaps it was my first unscheduled Saturday since the beginning of February, maybe it was the stack of two weeks’ worth of lunch containers beside the sink, the 7 middens of clothes scattered about…maybe it was remembering someone suggesting that I iron my entire wardrobe as a ring of fire challenge…whatever triggered it, I launched into a rare, rare cleaning frenzy.

I’ve often said I only like cleaning when I can see the difference it makes…well…you should see the house… it’s amazing…I swept, vacuumed, cleaned out the kitchen floor cracks, mopped, arranged, folded, scrubbed, and generally created beauty from the chaos that had surrounded me. I usually leave the house about 6:30 each morning and don’t usually return until 9 or 10 PM…so there hasn’t been much time or energy leftover for household maintenance…if you’d like a tour to see this most amazing sight, give me a call soon…as I’m sure the chaos will creep back with a vengeance.

So that’s the news from Wood Street this week…one more week of the Frugal Realm to go…thanks again for your continued kindness and support…it makes a big difference as I go about this crazy schedule called my life.

Warmly, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #21 3/6/2005
TA’s Denali Support Team #21

Greetings to All,

First, let me start by expressing my deep gratitude for the upwelling of support this past week. I placed my order and you responded with love, care, support, metaphor, allegory, personal stories, appreciation and words of wisdom. I soaked it all in and it made a tremendous difference to me and to by ability to get back up again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!!! Special thanks to Liz for finding me, to Mavis for three vanilla dips, for Katherine for saving me from the third vanilla dip, to Susan for making time and making snow, to Brian for shoveling my walks, to Karen for Xena services, to Janine for the massage, to Maria for calling when I was about to have a nap and inspiring me to go for my long run, and Jen for riding home in the Omamobile.

One of you recently said that it will be strange when I actually go to the mountain because I won’t be able to communicate with my support team-you won’t know what is happening (after 10 months of weekly updates) and I won’t be able to send an e-mail saying “Help!” We’ll have to rely on our intuition to send thoughts back and forth. After this week, I have many of your words and images to draw on when the climb gets tough-it is like having a deep reservoir of wisdom and direction packed inside me.

This week was the toughest yet in my “year on Denali.” If I were ever to write a book about this experience-that’s what I would call it, “A Year on Denali.” It was tough because my body balked at first at being back in the gym, my shoulder flared, and though I was excited to be back at it-part of me was still tired from pushing so hard all these months. So I took it moment by moment, kept putting one foot in front of the other, one lift after another and things started to turn and I was beginning to cruise. Tuesday marked the three-month countdown to the expedition.

Then on Wednesday came a metaphorical MAC truck with some unexpected bad news that felt quite devastating at the time. As the popular song goes, “I get knocked down…” And I was down! Flat. Doing a good imitation of a pancake…No that’s not flat enough…a crepe…a tortilla on the road of life. That’s what I was…quesadilla roadkill. Not only was I run over by the MAC truck, it seemed to be rolling back and forth over my head. I immediately reached out to friends for support and let the big waves of loss and hurt and disappointment run through, over, and out of me through the day. I allowed myself the space and time to work with the emotions both with friends and with physical activity. I had a brilliant run Wednesday evening when the emotional energy flowed through my feet into the pavement at an ever-increasing rate. My poor running group was left in the dust as I ran harder and harder leaving a wake of intense feeling behind me.

I didn’t sleep much that night and awoke in the pre-dawn swamped by the darkness both outside and within. That’s when I wrote to you and asked for some support. I went for another run and went to the gym to work out and then checked my e-mail. My in-box was being to fill…each message I opened brought hope, resolve, and a bit of light to the dark place. Slowly as the day evolved, the light began to overtake the dark and I could begin to see the actions I needed to take to resolve the situation. I sought the information I needed and by the end of the day had taken the first of many steps. And I felt like that same song “I get knocked down but I get up again.”

I was up again. Becoming thick once more…aiming to be a Tim Horton’s tea biscuit (no they don’t pay me to endorse their products-I wish)…shaking my head and saying “Whew, what was that?” Reeling a bit still. Still seeking and accepting support. Getting new glimpses of my resolve, my resiliency, my courage, and my capacity to use humor to carry on…I wouldn’t have chosen this week from the menu of life but I’m not ungrateful for it.

In my current Buddhist course, we are studying Lojong slogans-they are bits of 10th century wisdom in the form of slogans to live by. Recently we studied slogan 13, “Be grateful to everyone.” At first glance, I said “piece of cake…I enjoy being grateful and try to practice gratitude frequently.” “Not so fast,” said the slogan. Under the words is the idea of gratitude for opportunities or people that push our buttons, that anger us or hurt us or make us want to scream” because they give us opportunities to practice. This week was one such opportunity…and now in hindsight, I truly feel grateful for it.

In many ways, this week felt like my Denali midterm exam. It was a chance to check in on what I’ve been learning, see what areas need more work, and to rise to a big challenge. At first, I thought I might fail the exam but in the end, I feel like I did good…probably even an “A” effort. And I know now, that I am close to ready for Denali. I’m ready to face what she will ask of me. I’m ready to ask for help when that seems impossible. I’m ready to take steps that I never knew I could before. I’m ready to fall down and get back up again. And again. And again. I just remembered one of the quotes I have posted on the Wickersham Wall outside my office…”Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

I heard from NOLS this week that the expedition is full. There are 12 of us on the course…nine men and three women ranging in age from 20 to 39…with the average age being 27. I am the matriarch! I don’t know anything else about my fellow climbers yet but it was exciting to hear that preparations are moving along.

Friday we had a blizzard. I was filled with gratitude once again as I had another “winter” overnight scheduled with my class. All week it looked as if they were going to have to sleep in lean-to’s (which they weren’t very excited about) and the weather had predicted 5 cm of snow for Friday. “Enough to pull sleds,” I thought. Then 5 turned to 10 into 20 into 50 cm of light fluffy wonderfulness. Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny with a freshness that only a blanket of white can bring. The day alternated between expansive sunny blue and constrictive grey flurries. It was fascinating to watch my mood (and the students’ moods) change drastically in response to what the sky was doing. The temperature seemed to rise dramatically with every ray of sunshine and drop with every flake of snow.

I slept in the shell of a month old quinzhee. Since it was my 24th winter overnight, I didn’t feel the need to dig my own. I slung a tarp over the gapping holes, claimed the identity of “Hermit Crab” and made myself at home. I slept warm all tucked into my two sleeping bags and bivy sack. It’s always harder to get out of bed in the morning-especially when boots are cold and stiff. At one point, while waiting for the students to be ready to leave, my toes got quite cold. The moment was not lost on me. My thoughts turned to Denali and I wondered how many mornings there my feet would know the same sensation. With toes stinging like frozen fire coals, I said to myself…”why do you want to go spend a month in the way cold?” Still don’t really have a satisfactory answer…something about a journey and not a destination, something about watching perceived limits topple like the Berlin Wall, something about being called to high places, something about life lists and living large and dreaming, something about giving back, something about inspiration and respiration and altitude and attitude, something that I won’t know until July…

After a night out in the cold and an afternoon of meetings, my bed was calling. “Nap!” “Nap!” Nap!” My mind went into bargaining mode…”Okay nap now, shorter run later since I’m playing hockey and then do the long run on Tuesday.” Sounded good until I realized that Tuesday run is an interval run. Then I thought, “Okay just nap!” So I headed up to bed and the phone rang…my friend Maria was calling from Vancouver. She told me she’s been reading my e-mails to her Pilates classes as they do squats. I was touched. I was moved. “Self,” I said, “You’d better get moving. Naps are overrated.”

So I headed out for my long run…decided I didn’t need a 6km hill this time so I did a route I’ll call “Ring the Harbour.” I ran from Wood Street to Fort Amherst back downtown and then to the Outer Battery and back… still needed some running time so I ran halfway to Quidi Vidi and back as well. I had 20 minutes to replace some calories and head to the rink for a hockey game. Note to self…”2 hour runs before hockey makes for lead legs at the rink.” If my legs feel like lead now, I’m sure they’ll feel like some very heavy metal tomorrow since it’s another leg day in the gym.

So all in all, a very large week…just like I like them…though this may have been gigantic rather than merely large. Thanks again for all of your support and kindness and care this week. You are an awesome support team and I feel positively blessed and enriched to have you along with me.

With gratitude, TA

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