Throwback Thursday: On Being a Sucker for Punishment

I once told the story of how I was compelled to re-hike one of the worst trails and summits I have ever experienced. Ever. As it turns out, my Coliseum mountain adventure is not the only time that I unwisely choice to replicate a hike that I hated.  When I scan through my collective memory, there are countless examples of returning to unworthy trails, sometimes more than twice.  I am, it seems, a complete and utter sucker for punishment.

The following is my top 3 list of misadventures (i.e. needlessly suffering multiple excursions to emotionally scarring trails):

1. Iceline-Whaleback-Twin Falls loop (Yoho National Park). This one tops my list because I have done it FOUR TIMES.  The problem with this trail is I want to love it because 75% of it is absolutely stunning.  The final 25% is a 7 km forest-bound stretch that seems positively never-ending, and which has the magical superpower ability to erase the memory of all the good that came before it. You are left with nothing but an empty soul and dead legs. I have even tried this in the opposite direction to get the worst out of the way first. Spoiler alert: it made no difference.  I do not know how 7 km can possibly seem so long and boring, but I invite you to try this hike out and prove me wrong. Trust me when I say it is a losing bet.

2. Sea-to-Summit:  (Squamish) For those of us who feel it’s inherently wrong to take a gondola up a mountain, west coast trail makers love to build trails that follow gondola lines.  It lured me in with it’s shortness (7.5 km one-way) and then made me regret that choice the entire way up. Overgrown paths, long stretches of climbing through tree roots, alternating thick mud and bone-dry loose dirt that stuck to my sunscreen. Ugh. To add to the misery, 80% of the trail was view-less and forest enclosed. Despite this, I somehow deemed this worthy of another try. It was not and was, in fact, made even worse the second time around by excessive heat and an overabundance of blood-thirsty horseflies. Never again sea-to-summit, never again.

3. Twin Lakes (aka a hike so un-nice I did it thrice): The first time I had high hopes for lakes cradled by snow capped mountains.  I was disappointed (the best lake is the closest to the parking lot and the second and third lakes are successively more disappointing). The second time, I had high hopes that I was just cranky the first time around. I encountered sloppy mud, massive and nearly-impossible-to-skirt puddles, and a deluge of rain that left me soaked and freezing.  The third time around, I was foolish enough to drag a friend along as though I actually liked the trail the first two times. My poor friend was unaccustomed to hiking, insufferably hot, barely able to shuffle up the trail (or down, for that matter) and I lost him for a brief period of time when he wandered slightly off trail.  All of this to see three lakes, two of which are underwhelming beyond belief.

It is clear that I am my own worst enemy, with a sick desire either to prove to myself that a hike loved by others must also be loved by me or that I must pay my hiking penance by endlessly hiking the same crappy trails.  Will I ever learn?

*As with any of my trail rants, remember that what constitutes a great hike varies considerably person to person. Many people I know love all of these trails.  For me, however, they are hell.


Mid-Week Real Talk: I Have Potamophobia

Ten bucks says you don’t know what potamophia is.  Don’t worry, I didn’t either.  But a quick Google search proved correct my assumption that there is a name for every possible phobia.  Potamophobia is mine.

I absolutely despise unbridged river crossings.  It’s more than just hate, though. It’s disdain combined with crippling fear combined with complete lack of confidence, seasoned with a good sprinkle of incompetence.  It’s a bad combo, and it comes back to haunt me time and time again.

When I first started hiking, I didn’t encounter a lot of unbridged river crossings so it never occurred to me that I might be fearful of them.  As started to select less popular, longer or more remote trails, the number of unbridged river crossings multiplied. So, too, did my anxiety.  I have been forced to turn around on a number of occasions, which is incredibly vexing after hiking for hours.  I’ve even avoided trails altogether because of the need to ford a river.

Though I am (sadly) not a cookie, this is how I look and feel in this type of predicament.
Though I am (sadly) not a cookie, this is how I look and feel in this type of predicament.

Lest you be thinking, “Everyone should be afraid of crossing unbridged rivers. It can be terribly unsafe!”, I must own up to the fact that I’m not even talking about epically large rivers.  Sadly, I am deterred even by a bold stream, or slightly aggressive creek.  I don’t discriminate against water crossings. I hate them all equally. I am envious of people, like my father, who effortlessly leap from rock to rock without a care in the world.  I am in awe of fearless hikers who trust their ability to leap across gaps that I would deem far too wide to safely cross.

My mind is full of the very real and potential dangers associated with water crossings. Because I am super clumsy and ungraceful,  I fear tripping or slipping and spraining or breaking arms, ankles, wrists or legs. Because my balance is questionable at best, I can easily see myself leaping from rock to rock, losing balance, striking my head on a rock, knocking myself unconscious, and drowning in a tiny and shallow stream. Because I suffer from FOMO, I have a very real fear of dropping my phone and losing thousands of hiking pictures that, of course, I haven’t backed up to my computer.  Because of Murphy’s Law, I fear that I would, of course, be the person who needs to be rescued from the world’s smallest river crossing by search and rescue only to be seen as an exemplar of the under-prepared for nature.

I am a walking worst-case scenario handbook when it comes to river crossings.  Come hell or high water? I don’t think so. I say come hell or dry land.


Training Tuesdays: Three Cheers for Muscle Memory!

We just got back from a lovely long weekend of extreme glamping.  It is my favourite kind of camping.  Nay, it is the only kind of camping that I’m really game for these days. I suppose that makes me high maintenance but, let’s be honest, I am a little bit high maintenance.  I like the fun parts of camping (campfires, campfire smell, s’mores, late night star-gazing, proximity to forest, silence, darkness) but really require the comforts of home (running water, a shower after a long hike, a proper mattress, heat). In short, tent living is not my jam.

None of this is the point of today’s post, however.  My point was that the three-day glamping mini-vacation provided the opportunity for three consecutive days of hiking, a first in well over two months!  None of the hikes were particularly challenging nor long, but all were completed without SI pain, which is also a first in well over two months.

What was also surprising and delightful was the ease with which I got back into the rhythm of swift uphill hiking. I’ve hiked a bit over the last few weeks, but it’s often been tentative out of fear that I would aggravate my SI. But after a solid week without regression, and knowing the trails were pretty moderate in distance and elevation gain, I felt more confident in pushing harder.  And it was like running into an old friend that you haven’t seen in years, but with whom conversation flows as if you’d never spent time apart.

Even though my fitness isn’t where it used to be, I thank muscle memory for kicking in and at least making my movements as efficient as possible. It’s like I don’t even have to think about the motion of hiking. I was back on autopilot and just climbing away. I’ve always felt like my muscles were made for hiking, and it turns out they are.

Muscle memory, like elephants those muscles never forget!
Muscle memory: like elephants those muscles never forget that sweet, sweet feeling of the climb.

I don’t know about you, but muscle memory is one of those things that I talk about as if I know what I’m talking about (like big data or politics) when, really, I have a cursory understanding at best. So I did some reading about good old muscle memory and learned that my muscles are made for hiking, because I made them that way!

A recent Runner’s World article provided a good, simple overview:

Muscle cells are unusual: because they’re so big compared to other cells, they have multiple nuclei within a single cell. When you strength train, your muscle cells get even bigger, so they add more nuclei. When you stop training, the muscles cells get smaller–but the new results suggested that the number of nuclei remains elevated long after the training stops. Then, when you start training again, those nuclei are already there, ready to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

I wonder how many extra nuclei have been created by my obsessive hiking in years past, all waiting there to stimulate that good, old-fashioned muscle protein synthesis.  To each of  my lingering nuclei, I’d like to offer a seriously fierce high-five for hanging on despite the odds and making my transition back into hiking feel like my last hike was only yesterday. Now if only my lungs and heart would get that memo…

Monday Musings: On Changing Priorities

Priorities...sometimes they're more of a moving target.
Priorities…sometimes they’re more of a moving target, aren’t they?

Just two short months ago, I was fired up and ready to train the hell out of this summer. I was going to run and hike ad nauseum. I was going to be my fittest ever. I was going to eat, sleep and breathe trail running. I was (secretly) going to aim for a sub-5:15 ultra, which would have been a massive jump from my 5:39 several years ago over a distance of only 46 km.

And then my SI decided that it was going to give my determination a run for its money. In truth, it may have won.

By being forced to take it easy, I’ve been checking out shorter trails, ones that I would have deemed neither long nor difficult enough to constitute as a training hike. I have been slowing down and focusing on enjoying the scenery rather than trying to power through hikes as fast as humanly possible. I’ve rediscovered the love of hiking with other people because I’m less concerned with my speed and distance. I’ve enjoyed sleeping past 6 because I’m not driving two hours to a trail head to hike for eight hours and then drive back. I’ve enjoyed finding time to watch golf (don’t judge–it surprises me more than it can possibly surprise any of you). I’ve enjoyed the extra glass or two of wine because shorter hikes require less…sharpness. It’s all been rather nice.

Sometimes I think “I could get used to this.” Sometimes I wonder if my priorities are changing, whether I really want to put all my energy into training for anything. I wonder whether it would be worth it if it means giving up all those perks of non-training life. I’ve walked down that ‘everything-is-all-about-the-race’ road before and inevitably it kills my love for running and/or hiking–at least temporarily.

But then I remember my mildly obsessive personality and know that the second I have confidence that my injuries are at bay, I will want to hike farther and faster. Because even when I’m not training, I am always competing against myself, fighting for faster times and longer distances. But I’m committed to at least enjoying this hiatus, however long it may last, in all it’s pressure-free, scenery-filled, and leisurely-paced glory.

RWIR #16: The Power of Laser Treatments

I was at my wit’s end when we last checked in for a RWIR, suffering from yet another inexplicable set back and still frustrated by a general lack of progress. I can’t say this week has been better in terms of progress, but I can say that laser treatment has made the pain situation so, SO much better.

Alas, here we go!

Activity: Park circuit workout (this is exactly what it sounds like…a circuit workout in a park)
Relevant Stats: 52 minutes, cardio & rehab/strength
Observations: I ran! Sure, it was in 100m increments. But I did it without the demon SI belt and survived! I also integrated some step ups and other activities I haven’t done in months. Did I look like a tool in front of a bunch of Niagara-on-the-Lake tourists? Yes. Did I at least manage one workout while away? Yes. So the tourists who gawked at me can suck it. Also, my boyfriend took a video on his phone of me running, a video that I must still seek out and destroy.

Activity: Unplanned rest day
Relevant Stats: Crepe consumption: 1, Cider sample consumption: 4, wine sample consumption: 4, Epically large ice cream cone consumption: 1
Observations: I could provide a whole host of excuses for why I didn’t work out on Sunday morning before eating and drinking the world for the rest of the day. I could say I was hungover from my brother’s wedding (but in uncharacteristic fashion I was far from it). I could say I was tired from partying late into the night (but I was in bed by midnight). The cold, hard truth is that I was lazy and my SI was ever-so-stiff and I basically rationalized that working out would surely lead to my being rendered immobile the rest of the day. Laziness at its finest.

Activity: Hike
Relevant Stats: 10 km, 460 m elevation gain
Observations: No SI belt and no pain, a major win.  The major loss was an abundance of mud and sloppy trail conditions that made the bugs swarm like I haven’t seen in years. I was attacked. I survived at the summit for about two minutes before retreating rapidly.

Activity: Spin + Rehab Strength
Relevant Stats: 60 minutes
Observations: You know those days when you have zero interest in being at the gym? This was one of those days. I lasted thirty minutes on the spin bike before working through some of my rehab strength exercises and calling it a day.  Was it my best workout? No. Was it better than nothing? Sometimes I’m not even sure.

Activity: BCMC
Relevant Stats: 3 km, 850 m elevation
Observations: I dislike the BCMC at the best of times, but find it even more heinous when forced to complete it before work. It means a pre-6am wake up call, which is so not my jam. I know real runners and athletes are accustomed to early morning workouts, and this is precisely how I know I am neither. Because I detest early mornings.

Activity: Personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 minutes
Observations: I had told my trainer via email about some of my setbacks last week so she wanted to go back to some basics today rather than pushing to more advanced activities. I think it was a good call as my hip hingeing was in a sorry state of affairs for most of the workout, requiring constant corrections to form.  I am also pleased with the basics vs. advanced because I plan to hike all weekend and didn’t want my training session to cause an acute injury attack. Fingers crossed that I have dodged a setback bullet this week.

Activity: Planned Hike
Relevant Stats: unknown
Observations: We are heading away for the weekend, and I will be sans internet (eek!). I plan to hike Friday but am never 100% certain of which trail until I get closer and assess the weather and my mood/energy.  But hike I will. Let the long weekend begin!

As far as this week goes, I can say that I feel conflicted.  At times, I feel ready to push harder with my hiking and running, but I feel conflicting pressure to play it safe and avoid another setback.  For that I give this week a:

My feelings this week...that damn stop sign is lurking in the background...
My feelings this week…that damn stop sign is lurking in the background…

Throwback Thursday: If You Hike with Me I Might Lose You

Last week we had the great pleasure of visiting two of my dearest friends (and their adorable son and puppy) en route to my brother’s wedding. Naturally, this got me thinking of my many hiking adventures with dear Erica over the years.  For friends who only lived in the same location for a grand total of two months roughly 15 years ago, it is remarkable the number of hikes we’ve done together.

One stands out for me, though, and that is the hike on which I was certain that I lost Erica.  This all occurred on the fourth day of a whirlwind visit and hiking extravaganza that, I’m fairly certain, nearly killed poor Erica despite her ambitious spirit and determination to hike each day of her visit.

Alas, let us recap the calamity so that anyone reading can immediately and logically conclude that should they hike with me, I may lose them.

Imagine that you have just hiked three days in a row, on hikes ranging from a mere 10km to 26km. Imagine that you are from sea level, and have had no time to acclimate to mountain elevation. Imagine that you also haven’t hiked since the last time you visited me, which was likely a year prior.  Imagine after all of this, I suggest a 14 km return hike with 1060m of elevation gain to round out your vacation. Would you be surprised to hear that Erica didn’t want to continue to the summit of Cirque Peak after reaching Helen Lake, about 5.5 km into the hike? I wasn’t.

Champ that she is, she suggested that I keep going while she returned down the trail to the car (perhaps for a much needed nap). Well, the summit turned out farther than we anticipated, so I also failed to make the summit that day.  I feared if I kept going towards the peak and took hours to return to the car, poor Erica would be bored out of her mind and never visit me again.  And so, I left my other friends to their quest for the summit and (literally) ran down the trail looking for Erica.

I assumed I would run into her while she was still on her way down. After all, I was hauling ass downhill and, in my head, it seemed as though it hadn’t taken me all that long to go part way to the summit (not surprisingly, it had actually been a considerable amount of time).  But as I got closer and closer to the trailhead, I still hadn’t seen Erica. I wondered if perhaps she had stopped to rest along the way and I had run right past her. It just didn’t seem right that she would still be ahead of me.

Then I got to the car and she wasn’t there either.  I checked the outhouse. I wandered around the parking lot. I backtracked up the trail for a while. Still, there was no sign of her. I had a horrible, anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach. Could she have veered off course? Had she misunderstood and thought that she should wait for me at Helen Lake?  Then, just as I was agonizing over the thought of re-hiking 5.5 km on extremely tired legs, Erica calmly sauntered into the parking lot.

In response to my confusion and anxiety, she merely said “I left a note.”

As an aside, back in Banff (where I lived at the time), someone (I never figured out who) was always leaving strategically placed items on my car. Sometimes it was bags full of McDonald’s wrappers. Sometimes it was random pieces of paper. Once it was a fairly substantial tree limb (delicately placed so as to cause no damage).

Back to present day, as I had walked past my car in the trailhead parking lot that afternoon, I had noticed an Excel gum box tucked under my windshield wipers, very low down so you could barely see it from inside.  But, since I was always finding random garbage on my car, I assumed it had been there the entire drive to the trailhead.  Alas, it was actually the note from Erica, kindly informing me that she had gone across the highway to the Crowfoot Glacier pull out.

Amidst all the weaving story lines here, let the true moral of this story not be lost: if you hike with me, I may just lose you.*

* It’s true.  It’s happened more than once.  Maybe next week I’ll write about the time I lost Caleb…

Mid-Week Emotional Check-In: Anger Edition

Vancouver is a tremendously active city. Everyone is always out biking or running or (god help us all) even rollerblading.  I live along the sea wall, which is like a homing beacon for the uber active.  You can go for miles in all directions engaging in your activity of choice. All of this is lovely…when you’re not injured.

Lately, I have been struggling with my sea wall commute to work.  Every day as I walk to and from the office, there are people running.  Hordes of runners looking all happy (okay, I may be projecting here) and full of oxygen and flaunting their fully functioning musculoskeletal systems.  I want to be happy for them, I really do.  The problem is that I simultaneously want to clothesline each one of them as they run by, and then lecture them about how grateful they should feel for being able to run.

I’m not normally an angry person, but I cannot suppress the undercurrent of seething rage that sparks inside of me as I watch others do what I still cannot do.  After more than two full months. Fortunately it passes quickly because rational me understands that these runners are not, in fact, rubbing their running in my face. Rational me also knows that it is a gross assumption on my part that they aren’t grateful for their ability to run. But every once in a while we need to allow ourselves a few good minutes of irrational anger directed at completely innocent people…right? And so, in conclusion, if you live in the False Creek area, you may want to keep an eye out for an innocent looking bystander with a propensity for the unexpected clothesline.*

*Obviously this is not a real threat.