One potato, two potato, three potato . . .

Great. Now the word “potato” doesn’t look right to me.

About two months ago I discovered three nasty old shriveled up potatoes in a cabinet I rarely open. Despite their condition, however, each had 4” sprouts. Since I had never tried to grow potatoes before, I carried the ugly tubers to my computer and did a little research. Twenty minutes later, they were planted in one of the raised beds Mike built out back several years ago. They were the only things I planted this year.

Growing food can be difficult in a place where the number of warm days is inversely proportional to the ridiculous requirements added to teachers’ plates every year. Still, I’ve tried not to look too closely during walks past yards with haystacks and greenhouses and vines burdened with fruitful bounty lest I become covetous, or worse, insecure. I knew I could have harvested weeks of lettuce, spinach, beans and radishes had I planted seeds earlier in the season. In prior years, I was excited by my success with those plants, and I remember inviting our neighbors’ 3-year-old girl to pull up the first radiantly red radish.

“Lollipop!” She said, and her face lit up.

But since then, I haven’t made time for dirt. Sticking those spuds in Leadville’s still-cold June ground was an act of reconciliation. I’d be able to say I “did a little gardening” this year, though that would be a stretch to the truth. Sure, I did keep the earth mounded around each ridiculous shoot as they showed signs of forcing out buds, and I did stick the hose over the fence to sprinkle moisture on random rainless days. But I can’t really claim I nurtured those three nearly dead potatoes.

Yesterday marked about 10 weeks since I started what was really just an experiment. The plants that had grown vibrantly green despite my neglect were beginning to fade. It was time to see if there were any hidden treasures beneath the surface.

Imagine my surprise when my fingers struck the first cool sphere!2 potato

“Lollipop!” I announced to Mike, who was splitting wood for our soon-to-be-used fireplace. Triumphantly I held up the first perfect new red potato. I didn’t remember the shriveled things I had planted being red, but I suppose they could have been.

With growing excitement, I felt around for more. And when I was done, Mike and I had a good laugh. I sent a photo to our son Jake, who replied with one word: “Sustainability.”

My simple experiment took my brain to strange places and made me realize it was time to reconsider my will, and not the one that gets me through the long, cold months of Leadville’s three winter seasons. I’m actually not sure of the existing wording as it was completed too many years ago, but I know I opted for cremation. And while Mike remains steadfast in his wish that his ashes be scattered atop Mt. Massive (and in my Dad’s words many years ago when we discussed his remains, “but not until I’m dead!”), I’ve always considered myself more of a water person.

I still laugh with my Mom about threatening her with someday bringing her ashes to Leadville. “Don’t you dare!” she said the first time I mentioned it. “I won’t be able to breathe up there!” And then she threatened to haunt me if I did, something I hope she will do anyway, though not too soon.

So I don’t want my ashes tossed over a mountaintop. And although I wouldn’t mind having them sprinkled in a crystal-clear Colorado lake or in the ocean—and any one would do just fine—I’ve found an idea I like best.

Years ago I saw an ad for turning your loved one’s ashes into art. Just mix the ash in clay and create, or have someone create, a sculpture (which, I believe, would then need to be “fired” once more). And I thought that was a great idea until recently, when I looked around my house and realized I had too much “stuff.” Artwork is wonderful, but eventually, someone inherits it or it gets auctioned off or stuck in a closet or . . . who knows where it ends up.

And I know I’m starting to sound really picky right now, but hey, I’m sharing with the world my final will and testament about my cremains, so I think it’s my right to be specific.

I want my ashes to be buried in one of those new biodegradable containers that will produce a tree. “Ashes to trees, dust to the desk top.” I think that’s how it goes. And I want to grow somewhere with a longer growing season than Leadville’s. Maybe I’ll be a maple tree back near my New England hometown. Those fall leaves were always my favorite. Or, I suppose, a Laurel tree, though I hear those may be pickier about where they want to live. In any case, I’d like my cremains buried with—or even scattered around—a pretty new tree.

Phew! I’m really glad that’s settled. I’m looking forward to boiling my handful of potatoes for dinner tonight. And now I should probably investigate what else might lurk in that cabinet I rarely open.

4 potato

13 tiny taters. That is all.

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In an effort to keep me inspired to post about high altitude living more often, I’m offering a free, inscribed (I’ll use ink instead of a knife!) copy of “Miss?” to the first five new subscribers to my blog! Hunting season is just around the corner, so if you enjoyed last year’s posts about my crazy experiences, this year’s account should be even more entertaining.

Miss

 

Good luck, and thanks for visiting!

Black Cloud on a Way-Too-Sunny Day

The Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) races fill me with excitement and dread every summer since Mike started competing in them ten years ago. We all have our vice(es), and for Mike, it’s training for and completing ultra-distance races. I’m not sure how many others can claim being a four-time “Leadman” (Google it), but Mike has earned every belt buckle now littering his bureau top.

hug2

The Lead Ass Inn (our home, dubbed by my Dad) has been a gathering spot for countless racers over the eight years we’ve lived here, and both friends and strangers from the US and overseas have slept in our beds and on our floors and have been grateful for the availability of our three bathrooms. When we updated the bathrooms in our 120-year-old Victorian—the first update I insisted upon—I told Mike we’d be purchasing the American Standard Champion4 toilets because they advertised the ability to flush a bucket of golf balls. Although I never tested that claim, I’ve also never needed a plumber or a plunger since the installation, and believe me, racers can stress a system!

Group

After so many years of participating in the 100 mile mountain bike event, we’ve fallen into an exciting(ly stressful) routine which leads up to my favorite time of all—race day morning. We’re up at 04:45 because we know our regulars and some tagalongs will be ready for their pre-race prep at 05:00. We’ve unofficially adopted the First Descents team (http://firstdescents.org/), and one of their key leaders, Brent Goldstein, and their supporters—Gary Morris, Kevin Kane, and celebrity Ryan Sutter (among hordes of others over the years), begin their arduous day in our home. The vibe is always electric.

This year our group was smaller than average, and from the moment we awoke, we knew this year’s race day would be different. Sure, it was chilly before the sun rose, but it was not nearly as cold as it’s been in years past. Mike handed me his jacket as soon as he got settled in his staging corral (and yes, the similarity to sheep being herded was astounding). He didn’t even start the race with arm warmers. This did not bode well for him.

At mile 40 he was looking great and spent little time at our Twin Lakes support crew station. A refill of fluids and a brief comment about the heat and he was off for the climb up Columbine Mine. But by mile 60 on his way back through, I could tell the heat was whipping him. He actually took a seat, something he’s never done, and was in no great rush to get back onto his bike. It was not the Mike who came blazing through six years ago sans bike saddle (which had torn off on a fall coming down Columbine) and who finished the raced in mere minutes over 9 hours still looking strong. Nope. The heat was draining support crew people. It was brutalizing the racers. Mike was not looking good.

I was worried about him (always my greatest stressor), but I knew he’d finish the race. Mike’s training focus since his first hip replacement surgery three days after last year’s 100 mile mountain bike race has been on biking. He was going to earn the coveted BIG belt buckle for a 10th-year 1,000-mile finish, which is not to be confused with the turkey-platter-sized belt buckle he’ll earn when he finishes his 20th race ten years from now. And let’s face it. Who (besides me) wouldn’t want to sport a belt buckle the size of Texas? My one fear is he’ll need his other hip replaced by then just to carry the weight of it.

Anyway, the day grew hotter and I grew more anxious as time passed at the finish line until finally, I heard them slaughter his name. “And from Leadville, let’s hear it for Mike McChhaaargyouway!” Really? Not only has he completed this race 10 times and completed the whole Leadman series four times (and I won’t even talk about how much money these races cost to enter), as the Lake County Emergency Manager, he has also provided trail support for all of the races for years now. I suppose I should be used to people not being able to say our name, but this really irked me.

The time was 10 hours 38 minutes and Mike looked like death—not even warmed over. I Mike finishtried to coax him into the medical tent, but he chose instead to dry heave the whole way home. “Grit, guts and determination.” I knew we would not make it to the VIP party at 6:30 p.m.

He was showered and in bed by the time the other racers made their way back to our house to retrieve their belongings. And this was when the dark cloud passed over. Outside on the sidewalk, two women—a racer and her friend—sat looking morose. I went to offer assistance not knowing what was wrong and found out their friend had died during the race.

Mike and I met Scott Ellis and his wife years ago when they were staying at the B&B two houses down from us, their LT100 routine. This would have been Scott’s 19th LT100 finish. “He was in great shape” and was an avid racer. But his heart gave out about 20 miles from the finish. His wife was not here for this race. He was only 55. Mike’s age.

We attended the awards ceremony early this morning because getting the BIG buckle was a big deal and we wanted to be there to support the other racers. I left the ceremony upset for two reasons. The first reason was petty. Yup, they tortured Mike’s name again (they got “Mike” right) and did not have his buckle ready to take home. It bothered me more than it bothered him, so I really should follow his lead on these things.

But I was truly upset because there was not a single mention of the man who perished in a helicopter after falling at mile 80 on the race. Not a mention. Not a brief moment of silence or acknowledgment of the fact that “Grit, guts and determination” can sometimes be fatal.

And so it is that this year’s LT100 race is over. For Mike, it’s another goal attained before an upcoming week of coordinating support for the US Pro Cycling Challenge coming through Leadville this Wednesday/Thursday and for the LT100 mile running race on Saturday (I’m thankful he’s not competing in that one anymore). For me, it’s a sigh of relief that my friends and husband made it through this race with stories to tell.

I wonder about Scott’s wife. I wonder if she’s feeling angry that her husband died doing something he didn’t have to do, or if she’s feeling some sense of gratitude that he died doing something he had to do. Either way, I want to cry for her.

More on this at: Report of fatality and Another story about Scott

Footnote: On 8/17/15, the Leadville Race Series Facebook page posted a tribute to Scott: LRS Tribute to Scott

Leadville Today posted this tribute on 8/19/15: Tribute to Scott

…and while I may be vilified in the press for being so “demanding,” I maintain my belief that Scott’s accomplishments should have been recognized before any others at the awards ceremony the following day.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter

 

Urge to Purge

When the urge to purge hits, I don’t argue.

“What are you avoiding?” my good friend asked, and her question was legit. Who empties out sock drawers and those scary places under sinks unless there are taxes waiting to be paid or chapters waiting to be written?

I fessed up and made a decision I hadn’t anticipated. After watering the grass and pruning the flowers and hosing down the house (so many spider webs this year) and taking out the recycling, I marched to our bathroom, where paint cans, brushes, drop cloths and other paraphernalia have been sequestered behind our 6’ claw foot tub for about the last six years.

I couldn’t stand it anymore. But painting a ceiling and baseboards and window and door frames requires a commitment greater than a sock drawer, and I came close to talking myself out of it. So I started with the cleaning. Maybe I’d paint tomorrow.

By the time I had wiped down nearly every surface in the room, I started feeling a little better. That space behind the toilet? Critter-free. Under the tub? No more carpet of dust. Under the sink? Cleaned that out too. Even cleaned the light fixtures. I pulled every towel but a couple from the shelves. Time for new towels, too, but I’ll wait on that purchase—talk about a commitment!

A nice lunch of leftovers fueled me for the real work. There was no turning back. StartingBathroom 2 with the ceiling over the shower, I worked my way around the room until an even coat of paint covered the surface and me. Ever since our contractor upgraded the bathroom, painting only around the light fixtures he moved, the patchy paint job has bugged me. No more!

Next the baseboards transformed from dingy beige to glistening white and I couldn’t stop until the window and door frames got their first fresh coats.

Suddenly it was 7 p.m. Happy and hungry, I stopped. Tomorrow I’ll throw on one more coat around the window and door and the paint cans will finally move to the laundry room—my next project! I’ve decided this next week will be dedicated to finishing those ankle-biter projects that have nibbled for far too long. I’ll get to my closets eventually. And those last chapters.

“. . . and hold!”

When did I stop assessing my physical capabilities? And why?

I remember asking myself this question last hunting season after returning from a solo adventure into the wild with nothing but my weapon and my wits. It was a thrilling experience, and I went out solo because I needed to prove to myself that I could. Hey, if Mike doesn’t make it through the first days of the zombie apocalypse, I need to know I can take care of myself.

Anyway, when I got home—meatless, but with more confidence—it dawned on me that there were many things I once did that I no longer did anymore. Like handstands. I used to do them all the time. Learning to balance on my hands was one of the first challenges I chose to master back when I decided to join the Army (a few plus 33 years ago). Seemed like a worthy goal, and by the end of one summer season, I could take several steps upside-down.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had attempted one, so after several failed launches against a closed door, I finally got my feet up and over and resting against my safety stop. And I haven’t tried again since.

The lamest excuse on the books is “too busy.” Everyone’s too busy every day all the time anymore for anything (purposeful omission of commas because who has time for those anymore either?). So instead of telling myself I’ve been too busy for things like handstands, I’ve been telling myself my priorities have changed. LAME!

I didn’t let the handstand thing bother me too much until just this week when I started stretchreading Real Men Do Yoga, an overlooked book a friend gave my men many years ago. My decrease in physical fitness (and increase in pounds) since I fractured my ankle a few months ago has been nagging at me, and the moves in the book looked so easy. I knew I used to be able to do many of the basic poses, and heck, when I was a youngster I used to do flips and backbends and walkovers like all the other kids in the neighborhood.

I warmed up a bit and tried some of the poses I thought were pretty basic.

Um . . . evidently, doing a backbend is not like riding a bike. I couldn’t even get my head off the ground.

The reality of my current physical limitations is eye-opening, and I don’t like what I see. It’s been so easy to let “things” slip away, and it’s time to grab them back. Although I don’t see ever attempting a front handspring again in this lifetime, I will get my head off the ground, even if it’s just an inch, by the end of this year. And I’ll do a handstand again. Without the door.

Just you wait and see. I’ll take pictures.