Archive for the 'Adventures Outside' Category

La Muela

Oh, did I mention that I am pretty sure I have tendinitis in one of my right hip flexors? Yeah, it’s great. I think it was a combination of having my saddle poorly adjusted during the bike race, and then doing lots of shoveling in the garden. And then walking everywhere wearing poorly-supportive shoes. Going on three weeks, and I still can’t lift my knee to anywhere near 90 degrees  (as in.. when I’m walking).

Good gawd, I sound like a wreck.

So the other day Doc and I were getting cabin fever, having been sitting out the unusually sunny days inside reading and writing IRB applications and replying to emails from potential contacts.  So I popped a couple of ibuprofen, diminishing the pain in my hip/ quad to a bearable twinge (yes, I know that was a stupid move. blah blah blah, rest- shmest.)  Doc went to the market to stock up on picnic food, and we set out to climb “la muela”, a small peak above town to the southeast.

The road out of town eventually turned to dirt.

The road out of town eventually turned to dirt.

The road steadily tilted upwards, starting right at the south end of the plaza.  We stopped a few times for “granola” bars (in fact, rice crispy treats marketed as granola bars), but saved our lunch for the cumbre.

We passed fields of broccoli and onions outside of Almolonga.

We passed fields of broccoli and onions outside of Almolonga.

The route turned off the road and onto a dirt and gravel track  shortly before the town of Almolonga, the bread basket of Central America.  From there, it became progressively rockier until we went from walking to scrambling over boulders.



It got pretty steep. Like, tumbling head over heels if you slip- steep. Or… falling a long way straight down- steep.  Did I mention that I get a little bit of vertigo? It was funny, usually I’m the one looking at something stupid and saying “ooh, let’s climb that!” Or “Let’s just keep walking and see where this road goes.” But on this climb I was actually the cautious one.

Don't slip...

Don't slip...

Still having fun, despite the vertigo. :)

Still having fun, despite the vertigo. 🙂

Doc was much more adventurous than I.

Doc was much more adventurous than I.

When we neared the top, a group of kids came running up behind us.  There’s a reason Xela’s soccer team gets the name “super chivos” (super goats). The chivitos hung around on the cumbre with us.  As Doc was climbing up the other side (there are acutally two cumbres), I heard one guy tell his girlfriend, “That’s a really difficult climb, there’s a lot of risk in it.”  Looking at it, I tended to agree; but Doc came back and rolled his eyes, saying that the chivito was just trying to impress the ladies.  Apparently it was easier than it looked from a distance, but my hip was getting stiff so I continued to play cautious.

Doc climbing the other cumbre, which I thought looked stupid-dangerous.

Doc climbing the other cumbre, which I thought looked stupid-dangerous.

View from the cumbre: Almolonga down to the left, Xela down to the right.

View from the cumbre: Almolonga down to the left, Xela to the right (behind the ridge).

When Doc got back from his mini-side- adventure, we settled down to lunch: panches de papa (potato pouches, like tamales but with potato), tamalitos, two very buttery avocados, and a fresh mango.

Seriously the best meal we've had yet.

Seriously the best meal we've had yet.

The mango was mostly soft, but even the firm (less-ripe) parts were sweeter than any mango you could get in the States. YUM.

Most delicious mango ever.

Most delicious mango ever.

The best part of the meal? All of the waste was biodegradable.

Hojas (leaves) from the panches, mango peel, and avocado peel. Not exactly LNT, but not plastic, either.

Hojas (leaves) from the panches, mango peel, and avocado peel. Not exactly LNT, but not plastic, either.

The chivitos asked us to take some pictures for them, and then they headed down. We hung around a bit longer enjoying the view, and then scrambled down before the rain.  In all, about a 3-hour hike.

Digan, "Wikeeeeeeeeey!"

Digan, "Wiskeeeeeeeeey!"


Mohican 100(k)… illustrated!

The Short Version:
Where: Loudonville, OH, and surrounding region
What: 62 miles (and some change) and 11,000 feet of climbing on a mountain bike, on mostly trails and some pavement, in just under 12 hours.
Who: me.
Why: insanity? fun? a good challenge?
How’d it go: good! bad! hella terrible! fan-friggin’-tastic! read on for the gory details…

The Long Version:

I started training for this race in January. It was kind of one of my New Year’s Resolutions. But if I do it again next year, I’m starting training no later than October… seriously. If nothing else, just to make up for the black hole that is April in the life of an academic.

Mom, Doc, and I drove down to Loudonville, OH on Friday afternoon, getting a late-ish start after working in the yard all day.  We made a couple of wrong turns, and transformed what would otherwise have been a 3 hour drive into 6 hours (yes, that’s right, 6 whole hours). I tried not to see that as a forecast for the race.  We stayed in a super-cute B&B (Red Fox Inn) about 20 minutes outside of town, right at the edge of Amish country. Just to help you visualize. It was very pretty, and even in the car you could tell that it was a *bit* hillier than southeast Michigan (!).  Dinner was at one of the two restaurants in town: a hamburger topped with cheese and chili and sweet potato fries on the side. Delicious. Screw carbo-loading.

Don't be fooled by my pre-race dinner. I have plenty of sugar in my water bottles.

Don't be fooled by my pre-race dinner. I have plenty of sugar in my water bottles.

It poured rain all night.

Woke up at 5 am to get breakfast before driving to Loudonville to register and… ride! The innkeeper was incredibly kind and made me an egg, ham, and cheese sandwich on an english muffin, to- go. Paired that with a Cliff Bar and felt ready to roll. Except… my pedals weren’t on, my front tire was flat, the chain needed grease, and the seat was at the wrong height. You’d think I would have learned by now to take care of those things the night *before* a race, but I guess I have been less- than on top of things the past couple of weeks. At least I had prepped my drop bags, sport drink bottles, and CamelBak the night before. I was rushing to get my shoes on and the saddle adjusted, and missed the gun at the start by about two minutes. I almost bailed before I started, but with some major encouragement from my race crew I finally set off down Main Street in Loudonville to the first climb. Oh god.

It was very early. It was chilly. It was very pretty.

It was very early. It was chilly. It was very pretty.

Thank goodness another girl had missed the gun also, and we rode the first two miles together to the start of the single track. In those first two miles, I climbed more than I ever do on any ride in Ann Arbor, unless I’m doing hill reps up Spring. I seriously thought I would puke in the first three miles.

I'm the one in the pink, with the green Camel Bak (second group up the hill).

I'm the one in the pink, with the green Camel Bak (second group up the hill).

I settled in after catching the tail of the group and finding the single track. It was comforting knowing that there was so much mileage to make up time, and that I’d be doing the shorter course (there is a 100 mile option), so there would absolutely be people on the trail long after I finished. I hoped.

I rode with one woman for a few miles who’s goal was to make it to the first aid station. She had already decided to drop there. That was both reassuring (I could drop there if I had to, and I didn’t have to be ashamed) but also a little discouraging (I didn’t want to quit that easily!). We chatted for a while, and I moved ahead on a climb and dropped her.

The trail was absolutely gorgeous– I was skeptical at first, since they started us out through some campgrounds (steep climbing, but nothing technical) and a muddy river crossing followed by a muddy wall (hill). But then the trail opened up into this beautiful pine forest, with hard-packed single track that twisted and wound and jumped over logs. Seriously flowy and way fun.  I had been worried that the trails would be chewed up with all the rain we had the night before, but they were miraculously bone-dry.

I was enjoying the ride, but found myself walking a lot more than I should have been.  Climbing I felt great, and the rock gardens were fine, but for some reason I kept grabbing a handful of brakes before log piles and having to walk them. And I learned very quickly that I can’t descend for beans. Through the entire race, I walked the vast majority of downhills (especially switchbacks), otherwise crouching over my bike and gripping the brakes with white knuckles, my butt hanging way back over the rear wheel. My hands, arms, and shoulders were sore long after my legs recovered!

I found a guy to ride with around mile 10, and we hung together until mile 40, for better or for worse.  Chris was actually quite a bit faster than me, but he rested much more frequently (and checked his GPS with equal frequency!).  This was good in that it reminded me to slurp some Gu and chug some CarboRocket sport drink, but bad in that I felt like I could have kept moving while we were resting. That said, I don’t think I would have made it if I hadn’t ridden with him for so long… camaraderie definitely keeps you going.

Made it through the first rest stop at mile 20 and had a couple of bananas with peanut butter and a ProBar. I love ProBars. No, not PowerBars… ProBars. They’re unsweetened nut and carob chip bars that taste like Real Food, even more than Cliff Bars. Unfortunately, they’re three times as expensive as Cliff Bars. But I digress…

Things stopped being fun around mile 30, and I was glad Chris was there, chatting up a storm and keeping my mind off the aches and pains developing… everywhere. I thought the second rest stop would never come. But it did, and then I wished that it hadn’t… because the next 10 miles (or so it felt like) were paved. And all up and down. Big up. Fast down. I had NO idea Ohio was that freakin’ hilly. Holy. Cow. I came to love my granny gear with a new sort of passion. At least I wasn’t gripping the breaks on the paved downhills! I had used Chris’s phone to call my mom, and left a message asking her and Doc to meet me at rest stop 3 (mile 46). At that point, I was thinking I could drop out there.

Chris dropped out at mile 40, right before a section of single track.  After asking the two guys in front of me, who also paused at the road/ trail juncture and seemed to have some local knowledge, I determined that the next 6 miles were not too technical for my energy levels, and proceeded to walk only about 1/3 of it. I was on the tail end of my third wind. The trail emptied out into a field, and joy of joys, there were my mom and Doc, waiting with a frosted chocolate cupcake (Oh, my goodness!).

Coming in to the third rest stop.

Coming in to the third rest stop.

I was really happy to be at the third rest stop.

I was really happy to be at the third rest stop.

Not flattering, but definitely indicative of my mindset. With cupcake.

Not flattering, but definitely indicative of my mindset. With cupcake.

I sat for longer than I should have, and when I stood to go had a painful coughing attack. I had gotten a new inhaler especially for the race, but of course I had left it in the car. But I didn’t think it would have done any good, anyway.  Basically, my pride got me back on the bike. No WAY was I going to drop out with just 16 more miles, a supply of more sugar than I could consume in two years, and a perfectly functioning bike!

I had been averaging a painful 5 mph (based on the clock and the distance, not on my odometer), and told Mom and Doc that I’d see them at mile 56 in about two hours. That put me in line to finish at 8 pm… 13 hours after the start. Ick.

BUT! The next ten miles were paved, and I somehow managed to average 15 mph on knobbies (I credit the cupcake), making it to the last rest stop so much sooner than I had estimated, that I almost rode right past it. A brief stop, and I was back on the bike for the final 6 miles (with a stupidly-full 3L CamelBak. Don’t ask.).

One of the race volunteers passed me up the first climb, promising a cold beer at the end. Let me tell you, the image of that beer kept me going.

The course finished on the section of single track that we had first ridden, but in reverse. The beautiful pine forest. The flowy trail. Even the log piles (I rode them this time). I came out onto the pavement at the end with a big grin on my face.

But then… I saw the course signs pointing *away* from the finish and up another steep climb. WTF?? I had forgotten about the campgrounds and river crossing. I held it together through the campgrounds (walking a bit, riding in the granny gear when I saw campers) but started blubbering as I stumbled down the wall before the river crossing. No fair!! I thought I was done!!!

And somehow all that evaporated when I finally rolled across the line, in about 11 hours and 50 minutes. Whew.

WOO HOO!! Where's my beer?!

WOO HOO!! Where's my beer?!

They had arranged for some Mongolian BBQ for dinner (YUM)… but they were out of the promised beer and pint glasses. Sad face.

The verdict: painful, but fun. Especially in retrospect. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than getting to ride your bike all day, on beautiful trails. Unless it’s followed up by a giant piece of warm chocolate cake and coffee ice cream…. no, I didn’t have any of that, but if I did the race again, I totally would.


It was gorgeous out today, and I had the camera out. I totally should have snapped some pictures of the garden, and posted a little update. Perhaps tomorrow (even though it’s supposed to rain).

Instead, I took pictures of haybales. Round haybales, to be precise.

A normal person might ask me “why?” Why indeed.  Well, it’s a long story. Let me shorten it.

My mother asked for one thing for Christmas. A picture of a haybale, preferably black and white, to go above the fireplace.  The catch(es)? I had to take the picture, and it had to be a round haybale.  I’ll cut the drama and just tell you than I failed miserably.  My mother was not thrilled.

Tomorrow is her birthday.  51. I was not home for 50. I think I may have failed pretty miserably at whatever gift I gave her for 50. So I spent my afternoon searching out round haybales. I found them.  The results are below.

My question for you, then, dear readers (of which I think I can count on three. You know who you are.) is: Which photo should I get printed, all nice and professional-like at Foto-One, for my mother’s birthday? Keep in mind these things: 1) she will mat it and frame it so that it is square, 2) it will go above a stone fireplace mantel, 3) the frame will be wide and black (she and I have similar aesthetic senses when it comes to framing), and 4) she requested black and white (but i kinda like the tri-color one). Respond in the comments section, plz.

Oh, I’ve been digging the Flash-Animation Gallery builder on Lightroom lately, ever since I re-did my portfolio for a grant. Hence, the Flash-Animation gallery of the haybales.  When voting, plz use their number (i.e. 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4). Thx!!!

Also note: if you’re typing in the following URL, it’s case-sensitive.

Sorting, Balance, Focus

One aspect of grad school so far has involved sorting things out. Maybe I’m trying to, uh… modernize my life, or something. This sorting and classifying has proven productive: I’ve thought new thoughts and written new things that I might not otherwise have done.

Sorting school from life, first of all. School is not life. School is a job.  Most importantly: I do not live at school anymore (on campus or in the dorms). Never mind that my social life revolves around school… I’m fine with that.

Sorting “things I’m going to study and write about” from “things I’m interested in.” I am interested in food and cooking, bikes, gardening, visual art of various media, language and literature, but I’m not necessarily going to study and write about those things (er, for my job). That does not, however, mean I have to give those interests up.

So I’ve sorted. And am constantly sorting, as new hybrids arise as a result of said sorting. But now I’m trying to find a little balance between the school-life dichotomy I’ve set up for myself.  At orientation last fall, the Department Chair warned the incoming cohort that we would have blinders on for a while– our focus would become very narrow and we might have to give up our hobbies. But not to worry– hobbies and balance would eventually be returned to our lives.

I think she meant “after you finish your degrees” that hobbies and balance would return to our lives… but c’mon! We run the risk of driving ourselves crazy if we don’t find some balance throughout.  I think people with families find that balance (hopefully) much faster than others of us, out of simple necessity (and by virtue of having a spouse/ partner saying “Snap out of it!”). But I have single (or at least, unmarried) friends that seem to find it as well.

This fall was the first time in 5 years that I haven’t raced my mountain bike. In fact, I haven’t touched poor Lucy (geared bike) or Ramona (single speed bike) since April! Tragic.  I stopped because 1) I didn’t have time to drive up to 12 hours each way for races on the weekends, AND finish all the reading I had to get done and 2) While it was really fun to hang out with a bunch of 18-year-old boys when I was an 18-year-old girl… not as much fun anymore (no offense, guys).

I thought that I would miss the social aspects of racing the most (and I could replace those with other social activities), but in fact I missed the actual competition. I missed the nervous butterflies before a race and pushing myself until my vision was blurry. I missed the pre- and post-race rituals too: the pre-race eating, organizing, warming up, going over the course; the post-race eating, cleaning, stretching, and collective bitching and groaning about muscle aches and performance issues. (Hm, eating figures in twice there… surprise surprise.)

I also find that I am a lot less-healthy mentally without some sort of focused physical outlet. I don’t mean that I go off the deep end– I think I’ve hammered out my diet well enough in the past few years that I keep my moods and energy much much more balanced than in early college (I’ve also got a handle– I think– on that transition-time stress that plagues college freshman).  I mean that I can’t seem to *think* sometimes.  The wheels might be spinning, but the hamster is either comatose or dead. I can’t focus long enough to read a page of a book (often an extremely dense and less-than-fascinating book, but still). Thinking, for most people, is an important part of academia (though some of my colleagues might debate this).

In between my two brain-draining seminars yesterday (brain-draining in the sense that I feel like I want a cigarette afterward… and I’ve never smoked in my life) I went to the gym.  It’s the same gym that I’ve been going to for 5 years (now 6).  It’s the gym where I trained for my first Big Bike Ride, and all subsequent races and rides. I was worried that I’d have a panicked “Ohmygodimstillhereaftersixyearsandstillhavesixmoretogo!” attack, but I didn’t.

The familiarity of the place was comforting! Yeah, it was kind of gross and dimly lit, full of smelly jocks, anorexic girls, and other varieties of undergrads, but it reminded me of the fun things I enjoyed doing before work started to take over.

I did a similar routine to what I’ve always done (with a few exceptions).  I spent 20 minutes warming up on an elliptical trainer (I know it’s lame, but real running gives me asthma attacks), and about an hour lifting and stretching. I felt more energized and focused afterward than I have since September.

[I told my roommate that I’d been to the gym yesterday, and she said “What, did they open a coffee shop there?” Har. Har.]

I also drink less coffee when I work out. Bonus!

Of course, being who I am (a planner), I start thinking “Gee, it would be so great to race again in the spring!” I mean, I could fit in workouts in between classes and studying like I did yesterday, and I would feel so much better about life in general!

So I started eyeing the race I originally wanted to do last May: the Mohican 100. I wouldn’t do the 100miler (I simply don’t have the time or motivation to train for that one) but what about the 100k? I could totally do that… right?

The problem is, as soon as I start imposing a regimen on myself, I’ll try to cheat (don’t ask me why, I just will). That has been the trick to eating well– I don’t deny myself a damn cookie if I want one. I don’t eat them very often, but as soon as I start saying “No, cookies are bad,” I start craving them. (That, and I have slowly developed, over 5 years or so, a deep-seated aversion to pre-packaged foods.)

So if I start saying “Mondays are a bike day, Tuesdays are swimming and rock climbing, Wednesdays are lifting, Thursdays are biking, Fridays are biking, Saturday and Sunday are rest days” (which, in fact, is what I was kind of thinking), will I start to think “to hell with it”?

I know I won’t be happy with just racing “for fun”– I want to feel that I did my best. And in order to do that, I have to train well. But will that take the fun out of it? Will I start to feel tired rather than energized (which has happened in the past)? Maybe I’m not cut out for physical competition… maybe it would drain too much of my focus away from other, more pressing things…

Or maybe it would offer a nice outlet, which I could seriously use right now.

Winter Bike Commuting?

Oh yeah.

fenders + studded tires

on my 29-er.

Lost Island of Cyclists

I just came across this series of entries on one of my favorite cycling blogs– anthropological descriptions of an island of futuristic cyclist-creatures! Awesome!! I wish I could do my fieldwork there…


I went trail-running this morning. Yes, trail-running. Not dirt road- running, not soccerfield-running… trail- running. I’m going to keep saying that, because that will make it more true. In fact, what I did was more like trail- “jogging”… and at times trail-walking… which would actually be called “hiking,” but it was an accomplishment for me.

There is a lovely park smack in the middle of town (town being Nahualá), called the “Uxlamb’al” (place to rest).  The middle of town also happens to be a mountain.  Perhaps it’s not a mountain by Guatemalan standards, but I’m from Michigan, so it’s a mountain to me. It is certainly larger than anything we have in Michigan, including in the U.P.  The park is on the side of the mountain, and has three terraced paths with switchbacks connecting them.

There are big trees in the park.  Big, beautiful cypress trees breathing in the carbon smog of the town and exhaling sweet, fresh oxygen. Ahh, trees.

Along the paths are conveniently- placed trash bins and benches.  There are flowers.  And signs asking people not to pick the flowers.

There are even neat little campgrounds: slabs of cement under metal roof-shelters, complete with grills.

Unfortunately for me, there is also a pack of snarling dogs that roams the park in the wee hours of the morning.  They are impervious to the rocks I toss in their direction (not at them, per say), but at least they provide some motivation to keep moving.

I started off from my house at 6:15 this morning, after arguing with myself to get out of my comfy, warm (yet flea-ridden) bed.  I walked up two steep hills on the way to the park as my warm-up.  By the time I reached the entrance, I was quite warm.

The park is actually locked in the morning, but the dogs (or perhaps some mischevious youngsters?) have created alternate entrances via a dilapidated basketball court.  I climed the crumbling steps to the court, trying to put some pep in my step, and picked my way through the chain-link fence.

It should be noted that I didn’t go hunting for this hole in the fence.  I actually got lost the first morning I went to run, and just headed uphill until I found myself in the park. It was only when I tried to exit that I discovered that the official entrance was locked.

Anyway, my little warm-up takes about 15 minutes.  Sporting my bad-ass Jon Cena t-shirt (purchased in the Todos Santos market and envied by 15-year-old boys throughout Guatemala) and a pair of stylin’ paquete* sweatpants, I start to run. 

I hate running. HATE IT. A number of factors contribute to this sentiment: 1) there are many other, far less-painful sports that you can participate in that put your body in much better balance than running; 2) all runners end up injured at some point in time– your knees, your tendons, general imbalance that results from only working a minimal number of muscles day-in and day-out; 3) running gives me asthma attacks; 4) I look like a spazz when I run– some sort of cross between a waddling duck and someone deliberately running like a spazz, flailing their arms and about to trip over her own feet. Remember that Friends’ episode where Rachel and Phoebe go running? I’m somewhere between their two running styles.  I can go on, but I think this is sufficient. 

Why run, then?  Well, in spite of it’s shortcomings, running offers a few benefits: 1) it’s portable– you can run wherever you are, with a minimal amount of equipment; 2) it’s exercise, and I need exercise; 3) … uh, I can’t think of any more. Those two reasons, plus the lack of bikes or swimming pools in town, leads me to “run.”

I did laps on the middle tiered trail, because it undulated slightly. I lasted about 3 minutes, and had to rest. I made it to 4 laps in 15 minutes– not quite a success, but it gives me something to work on.

Nota bene (in my defense): Nahualá’s elevation is roughly 2500 meters above sea level. That’s more than 7500 feet. That’s pretty high, considering I live at sea level. 😛

I walked down the two massive hills to cool down on my way home.  It was a nice cool-down, and it was also the only way to get home. The goal: run three days a week, followed by my little situp and shoulder-strenghthening routine. We’ll see…

*Paquete clothes are used American clothes that are sold in the markets for anywhere between 1Q and 10Q.  I am curious as to where they come from, but I suspect that they passed through Goodwill or Salvation Army at some point…