Several months ago over pizza and beer and far too much testosterone, my husband (Mike), our friend (another Mike, so I’ll call him Lamond hereafter), and our son Nick decided they’d all compete in 100-mile foot races this summer. As Mike and Lamond have completed the Leadville Trail 100 (LT 100) run several times already, they got online and without a lick of forethought, registered for the Ouray 100, a race with cumulative elevation gain equivalent to climbing Mount Everest three and a half times (see map below). No big deal, really, as they’re given 52 hours (nonstop but for an occasional aid station and tree watering) to complete the course. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of the older men, Nick registered for his first LT 100 run.
Lamond’s wife, Sunni, and I looked at one another through the haze of hormones and rolled our eyes. We have crewed many, many, far-too-many races over the years and knew that this one would be a humdinger.
I’ll interject a little tidbit here about my husband. Three days after he completed his ninth LT 100 Mountain Bike race a few years ago, he agreed it was time to undergo a full right hip replacement. Last year, three days after he completed his 11th one—because he had to earn the 1,100-mile jacket—he completed his transformation from Leadman to Titanium man with a matching left hip.
And one more tidbit about surgeons. When healing is complete and they say, “Sure! No restrictions,” they really should listen to what their patients tell them. Mike was quite clear with his surgeon about his desire to continue a life of mountaineering and racing.
“No problem. No restrictions,” said the doc. I could’ve punched him.
But enough tidbits. Back to the race.
Ouray, Colorado is a gorgeous location and we had trailer camped there three times prior to the event. Mike and Nick had hiked almost every leg of the race course, and Nick was prepared to pace Mike for the last 50 miles. Mike was motivated and confident in his ability to finish a race only 9 had finished the previous year.
“Get it out of your system,” he told the sniveling sky the night before the race as thunder boomed and lightning crackled through the atmosphere. It poured all night.
Race day started with partly cloudy skies. The soaking-pelting-brutalizing-hailing-rain began again within moments of the start of the race, but Mike had the right gear for every eventuality. A deluge would make completing this race just that much more badass.
Nick and Sunni and I would meet up with our racers that evening at a point where we’d see them three times between 4 p.m. and 3 a.m. the following morning. If they didn’t make the time cutoffs at each point, the race would be over.
Sitting with Sunni in our truck while Nick took my pink Victoria’s Secret umbrella to watch for our racers, I questioned my own sanity. The truck was packed with bags of gear and food and blankets—silly me, thinking I’d ever sleep!—and oh yes, Ranger, 90 pounds of muddy-wet German Shepherd.
“Here we are again.”
“Waiting and worrying.”
“We keep supporting them, though.”
“Yeah. Maybe our two Mikes should live together next year—”
“And you and I should take a cruise!”
We were both pleasantly surprised when Lamond cleared the first checkpoint early, drenched, but in great humor. Nick and I stood under umbrellas while Sunni tended to his feet.
“So, what do you think?” he asked me. “Is it going to clear?”
I’d seen the forecast and paused for too long before looking him square in the eyes and declaring, “Yes.” He laughed out loud. Guess I didn’t really sell it, but he appreciated my optimism.
He took off for his first of two loops up the mountain at Ironton and we waited for Mike. And waited. And waited. I can’t help getting anxious when the wait stretches longer than planned. Both our men had told us they’d be okay if they’d given it their all but couldn’t make a time cutoff, and we almost believed them.
“Well, if Mike doesn’t make it in time, then Nick can pace your guy the last half.” I not-so-secretly hoped I wouldn’t have to spend all night in the muddy-wet-dog-smelly truck. Lamond had seen Mike earlier and said he was in good spirits, but his hip was giving him issues.
I was not happy. I was damp and hungry and worried. Nothing in the bags of not-quite-food appealed, and the idea of setting up our camp stove in the rain made me angry.
“I really hate this,” I confessed to Sunni. She understood completely.
Nearing the cutoff time, I saw the pink umbrella and Nick waving at us with a big smile, and behind him trudged Mike.
Shit, I thought. He made the cutoff.
He wolfed down a bowl of mac & cheese from the aid station, changed his gear for nighttime navigating, and off he went. As I watched my husband hobble up the mountain, I gave Nick a look that said, “Are you kidding me?”
“He’ll warm up. He always looks like that when he starts,” Nick reminded me. Nick always finds a way to say just the right thing to talk me down from my overblown worries, a skill he must have inherited from his father.
Lamond completed his first loop faster again than anticipated, and before he started off on his second loop, the moon peeked out.
“See! I told you it would clear!”
He thanked me for stopping the rain, but I knew it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t. Off he galloped up the mountain for lap two just as Mike completed lap one. Did I mention that Lamond is about six-foot-twelve and his walking stride is faster than Mike’s shuffling stride? No matter. Everyone was suffering.
Everyone but a racer I’ll call “Skippy Girl.” Skippy Girl skipped through every aid station throughout the race, and according to our guys, chatted the whole way too. It was enough to make a person want to hate her, but she was just so damned skippy that I really wanted to adopt her. I never offered, as it would’ve been weird—she being 29 and all—but the thought crossed my mind. Despite my miserable mental condition, she made me smile.
Lamond completed lap two at 10:20 p.m. just minutes after Mike started the lap (which took him four cold, dark, wet hours) and Sunni departed with Nick, leaving me in the rain with a stinky-wet-dog-wet-sock-smelling truck. Nick would go to the 58.8 mile point and wait for Mike with our friend Erich, who would start pacing Lamond at that point.
And now I must give praise to our pooch. We think Ranger is about 6 ½ (they said he was about 3 when we rescued him), and as long as he is with us, he’s a happy boy. I could learn a few things from him. Never once throughout that long night did he complain, despite being muddy and wet and crammed in among the bags of stuff in the back seat. He’s a very good boy.
I, on the other hand, grumbled and groused and tried to find a comfortable position while shaking from my mind thoughts of all the horrible things that could happen to my husband alone and impaired on a slippery mountainside. I knew he was hurting from the first time he limped into the checkpoint. And I knew he wouldn’t quit. I played Solitaire on my phone until my eyes blurred from weariness and ambient humidity.
Finally, a lone headlight lurched into sight at 2:14 a.m. Though I wanted to, I didn’t dare take a photo of Mike as he sat in the passenger seat, his hands frozen and barely able to scoop mac & cheese into his mouth, his stomach rejecting it immediately, his eyes a mixture of fatigue and resolve.
I wanted to say, “Stop. Please stop now.” But I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be the one to give him any reason to question his ability to complete this ridiculous race. And I knew I wouldn’t deter him from his goal even if I’d tried.
Instead, I kissed him and cheered him on to his next checkpoint, confident that once he reached Nick, he’d be in good hands. Calculating time to the next checkpoint I could go to, I wouldn’t see him again until around noon on day two of the race.
I returned to the trailer at about 3 a.m., took Ranger for a little walk since there was a break in the deluge, posted some Facebook updates, and threw myself under some covers on the bed.
At 8:45 a.m., almost 25 hours after the start of the race and 58.8 miles in, Mike missed the cutoff time where Nick was waiting.
“He’s done. Missed the cutoff. He’s in good spirits, though.” Nick’s text made me want to cry . . . from relief, because I knew the only reason Mike would stop would be because his titanium parts just weren’t working correctly, and from sadness, because I knew how strongly he wanted to finish this race.
His mind was far stronger than his matter this time.
“Thank you for supporting my insanity,” he told me when I picked him up. I told him he couldn’t get into bed without showering, and shortly after he was asleep, I got a text from Sunni:
When Mike [Lamond] came down to Crystal Lake he said he was done and had no desire to continue. He was easily talked into going back out for a nice strolling hike with his boys (both Erich and Nick went). Not sure if he’ll continue after the park. I told him ‘I’ll see you at the park and we can discuss you stopping.’ Figure mentally he’d be better saying he stopped at 75 miles. He now agrees how stupid this race is.
The next 24 hours blurred into a haze of back and forths to different checkpoints as Nick ran with Lamond throughout the day and night (day 2 was clear and moonlit!) to complete the stupid race by 8 a.m., a mere 48 hours after it had begun.
Sunni’s father played classic tunes on his bagpipes at the finish line, and nearly all of us complained of “something in the air” as we wiped our eyes. I secretly chastised myself for my meager discomforts. In fact, I felt great pride at the accomplishments of my husband, son, and friends who participated in the stupid 102.1-mile race.
Fifty-eight crazy people started the race and 22 strong, insane, skippy runners finished it. Many quit early on, and I can’t say I blame them. I was demoralized just standing under an umbrella. Many hadn’t trained enough to make the time cutoffs for each insane section of the race, and to those folks I say, “Good effort.” And some—like my mountain goat husband—gave more than they had to give.
What drives people to participate in these ultra-endurance races? Probably the same thing that drives people to compose music, to paint murals, to write books, to care for the sick and injured, to teach . . . it’s something in the genes and in the blood. We can’t help ourselves from pursuing our passions.
In less than two weeks, Nick will start the LT 100 run at 4 a.m. and I’ll be with him at the start. Mike and Lamond will be there to pace him for different sections the last 50 miles. And I’ll be there for him at the finish too, with tissues at the ready, just in case there’s “something in the air” again.
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It is with anger, growing frustration and rising blood pressure that I’m distracted from writing what I enjoy writing to compose this rant against irresponsible dog owners. I am so, so, SO sick of having to defend myself and my dog from almost routine incidents involving loose, aggressive dogs.
Just yesterday I delivered a stern written warning to an aggressive dog owner whose dog finally escaped its yard and attacked my dog, and this morning, while walking with my friend along a route we’ve taken several times each week for the past several years, an unsecured Rottweiler ran from its yard and charged us. I think the only thing stopping it from inflicting damage was the atmosphere of noise and confusion that ensued as its owners, a witness, and we—its target—all erupted in shouting from different directions. The same dog had apparently attacked another person two weeks prior.
I had my pepper spray at the ready as the dog circled us at close distance, and fortunately, the dog owners secured it before it made contact.
And then they apologized, right?
Hell, no. They acted belligerently, yelling at us for our reaction to the incident, telling us their dog is “friendly,” and walking away after being told to stay until the police arrived.
A well-meaning witness to the whole event suggested that we consider taking a different route for our morning walks. My emphatic “No!” was perhaps delivered too strongly—he was simply offering a solution—but his solution suggests that I remain a frightened victim. His solution suggests that unrestrained, aggressive dogs should be given control of their territory and beyond. It suggests that law-breakers should be allowed to continue breaking the law.
And it suggests I should just deal with the physical and emotional damage I endure after coming down from a spike of fight-or-flight adrenaline to my system.
To all those suggestions, I scream “NO!”
“It’s because your dog’s a German Shepherd,” we’ve heard from past aggressive dog owners after their off-leash dogs have charged us, as if owning a German Shepherd is a valid excuse for their dogs to attack. I suppose that was a similar excuse used by the owners of three different loose dogs who charged my friends as they walked their 14-pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniel around the Fish Hatchery recently. I suppose it was because my friends’ dog was too cute.
There’s been talk for years of sterner dog control ordinances, but if we’re all going to continue to avoid the law-breakers, to walk a different route, to veer into the street rather than stay on a sidewalk by a fence we know won’t contain an aggressive dog, to give someone “one more chance” before filing a report, what good will come of sterner laws?
I’m disgusted. I’m disgusted because this is not the first time I’ve been angry enough to write about dog attacks (see Going To The Dogs), and even as I write this—my heart still pounding too hard—I question what impact it will make.
Why, Leadvillians? Why do we keep making excuses? Why do we keep believing it will never happen again? Why do we even consider changing our route? Aren’t we smarter than dogs yet? Evidently, we’re not.
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I sent this letter to our local paper’s editor today. I know this issue is not exclusive to our quirky little town, so I have to wonder why we (humans) can’t seem to figure out how not to continually be victimized by them (demonstrably dangerous dogs and their generally aggressive owners).
Clearly, it’s never appropriate to blame the dog. Some people believe there are no bad dogs, only bad dog owners. But bad dog owners can create bad dogs and allow them to behave aggressively around people and other animals. This is bad.
I believe my rights as a law-abiding individual trump (and how I hate to use that word anymore) those of law-breakers and animals. I’m not sure how I’ll respond to the next attack, but it won’t be pretty. For years now I’ve been holding Ranger back and pulling him away from attacking dogs, not wanting him to engage in a fight, not wanting him to experience what it might feel like to sink his teeth into a combatant, not wanting to “ruin” him.
I’m not going to hold him back anymore.
As of August 17, 2017, Leadville’s City Council is drafting new-and-improved guidelines for dangerous dogs!
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To say it waits for us each morning would be a lie. It’s just a tree, an aspen tree with a tuning fork trunk. But no. It’s more than just a tree. It’s a goal, a symbol, a reward.
Several years ago I invaded my neighbor’s exercise routine by inserting myself and my dog into his morning walk. Since that first hike up the east side of our little town, I’ve come to look forward to rising earlier than I would otherwise rise to get my morning dose of inspiration, and John has grown used to Ranger’s initial excited barking at him and my often incessant chatter.
I remember asking that first morning how far up the moderately steep road we’d go before turning around.
“Where the road turns to dirt, there’s a tree,” John told me, and I couldn’t wait for the pavement to end.
It’s hard enough to breathe some days doing routine tasks at 10,200’ elevation, and before we approached the rust-red bridge, moderate turned to steep. The pavement didn’t stop, but my chatter did.
Beyond the bridge was yet another cruel incline. I was really out of speed-walking shape and thought we’d never reach the turn-around spot, but when I saw the tree just beyond where the pavement ended, elation replaced fatigue.
Years have passed since my first quest to reach the turn-around tree, and not a single walk has culminated without some fresh insight about my life and my writing. In 2015 while searching for the perfect name for the flying frog character in my novel Waterwight, I asked John if he had a middle name. After a moment’s hesitation, he told me.
I recall saying something like, “No way! That’s it!”
John laughed, and my character had his name.
Countless encounters with people and the landscape during our routine walk (which never seems to get much easier for some reason) have inspired scenes and new characters and plot twists for my writing. Walking under the bridge, for example, with its menacing icicles from sunny morning thaws gave me the vision of Orville’s underwater rescue of Celeste. A young boy named Bridger who told me his superpower would be “to build things” inspired the character Bridger. An arrow stuck in a telephone pole inspired John to suggest an archer character (yes, I have dragged John into my fictional worlds), and when I let him get a word in edgewise, he often provides me with ideas to ponder.
“Have you noticed the profile on Mt. Massive?” he asked one morning after we discussed shapes of clouds and already-named stone formations like New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain. When I told him no, he directed my attention to a stony outcropping halfway down from the highest crest of Mt. Massive, the gorgeous mountain range sprawled before us, waiting for us, I imagine, on our descent from the east side each morning.
And not only was Old Man Massive born that day, but the stark outline of mountain against crystal blue sky inspired a vision of the precipice scene for Waterwight.
This morning was the first time I said the words “turn-around tree,” and John suggested I add it to my growing list of title ideas. The tree’s new name reminds me of my favorite Shel Silverstein story, “The Giving Tree,” and its location being where the pavement ends recalls Silverstein’s collection of poems, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
I have yet to publish a young children’s book, but I have titles for them on my list. Perhaps “The Turn-Around Tree” will end up as more than simply this blog post title.
While the time it takes us to reach the turn-around tree never seems to vary much despite our noticeable improvement in fitness, the time itself has grown in value. Some mornings it’s filled with chatter (until that last steep spot) about the world and life and the latest local happenings, but more often now there are longer stretches of silence in which to create new worlds.
The turn-around tree is an achievable goal, one that starts each new day with a discrete accomplishment. It’s a symbol now too, of something that continues to grow—like friendship—its tuning fork shape a reminder to stop the chatter every now and then and listen. And it’s a reward, ever-changing in its ability to endure its often harsh surroundings, a visual treat marking our success, there for us as a reminder to consider the turning places in our own lives.
I’ll pretend the turn-around tree does wait for us each morning. The idea might keep me from sending a “too tired today” text on mornings when my warm sheets encourage my bed potato tendencies. And who knows. “The Turn-Around Tree” just might make it to the top of my children’s book title list. I can visualize at least one story ready to be shaken from its branches . . . yet another reward waiting to be claimed.
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If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!
With summer just starting in Leadville, Colorado, it’s hard to believe hunting season is just around the corner! We haven’t yet learned if we drew tags for this year (fingers crossed), but I’m already brushing up on my harvesting skills. We’re down to just a few packages of fajita meat in the freezer from last fall’s roadkill, so I’m looking forward to restocking soon!
If you’re a hunter or hiker (hunting for breathtaking scenery), you should consider purchasing and learning how to use a GPS (Global Positioning System). It will help immensely when you need to remember where you left your tasty meat, or if you’ve lost yourself in the excitement of the hunt, it will help you find your way back home!
Sally, a fellow hunter and writer, recently provided me with a Top 10 list of GPS devices and a link to an article with more information about each. Here’s what she sent:
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In the books I read as a child, the hero, well anyone who was hunting, did so with a bow and arrow. They navigated from memory or by using the sun and the stars (not at the same time naturally). Today, it’s a little different, but a large part of me loves the idea of ditching technology and going out, me versus the moose mano a mano or well, womano a moose.
Now we have small children and I have a tech obsessed husband, the question has not been what technology to use, but which type of each gadget available. One of the ones he loves most is the GPS device, as someone who is great at navigating without a map, using one is a disaster in the making, so I’ll give it to him, GPS are useful because they tell me where on the map I am and how to get to my destination. So, after a bit of trial and error, we’ve worked through and reviewed the top 10 available right now, which are:
Montana 680 Touchscreen GPS (Garmin)
Rhino 750 (Garmin)
Oregon 650t GPS (Garmin)
eTrex 10 (Garmin)
eTrex 20x (Garmin)
DeLorme InReach SE
Back Track G2 (Bushnell)
Foretex 401 (Garmin)
That’s just the list. I’ve put together the pros and cons of each as well as a review in this article covering the top 10 handheld GPS devices.
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Please check out Sally’s article for lots of info on this very important tool! I know that after some of my hunting expeditions, I could benefit from knowing how to use a GPS (but so far, my husband hasn’t steered me wrong)!
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If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!
Alpha Peak LLC (my old publishing imprint) is now STRACK PRESS LLC!
I decided it was time to update my old company name and to create a logo that was more in line with my work. The word “strack” is an old-school military term that means “very strict in one’s military appearance and grooming.” In other words, totally squared away!
After running a 99designs logo contest, the designer Caluya (TM) captured exactly what I was looking for. The logo has 12 open-book-style lines that also look like military chevrons, and the font is clean and bold. I asked for it in red, white, blue, black, and gold.
Books already published will maintain the Alpha Peak LLC imprint, but all future publications will be from Strack Press.
When I finally shook off the shackles of my religion, a process that took years, I freed my suffering psyche from a bondage I felt was never fair or right. After all, if God has made us “in his own image,” then He has made us as flawed as He must be. Instead of humanity being obligated to pray for forgiveness and mercy, should not He ask forgiveness of us?
Would a father or mother today truly condemn their child to eternal damnation for any degree of offense or disobedience? I suppose there must be consequences, right?
But eternal damnation? If my child were born with the genetic makeup to perpetrate a heinous crime, then I ought to weep for passing down that predisposition. I ought not to wish upon that child eternal damnation. Both nature and nurture influence mental health, though as we learn more about the brain and its chemistry, it would appear that nature pulls more sway. Is it a child’s fault that s/he is chemically unbalanced? I think not. Continue reading Easter Weekend: Let Us Rejoice?→
Sign up now for a chance to win one of 5 autographed copies of this crazy adult fairy tale! Until then, download an e-version (for only $2.99) and maybe buy a copy for a friend (for only $6.99)! Thanks!
I’m SO excited about the upcoming release of my Grimm’s Fairy Tales / The Twilight Zone mashup, an adult fairy tale! Written from a second-person point of view, this twisted tale is one I hadn’t intended to write, but hey, when the muse throws sex in your face, you’ve got to do something with it!
Pre-orders for ebooks are open now and will be released with the paperback on March 12, 2017 (a full moon!). And check out the cover artwork!!!
Ask me where I had it designed . . .
Thank you for your support! The ebook is only $2.99 and the paperback will be $6.99. Worth it for the artwork alone, I’d say!