Monday, February 25, 2013

Week in Review: Recalibration

"What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured." Kurt Vonnegut
I intended to write about a snow climb that I had earlier in the week, but after a week that was filled with bearing witness to loneliness and loss, my mind won't let me go there.

Summary of my climbing/hiking week: I climbed 2 mountains this week. It was enjoyable. The end.

After work on Thursday, I ditched my usual University Mountain/Mount Sentinel hike and joined up with Interim Youth Director Dave Massey and 4 students from First Pres. Youth Group for homeless outreach. The group meets weekly for an hour to walk the streets of Missoula chatting with street folks - panhandlers, transients and the homeless - while providing hand warmers, snacks and conversation. You may be thinking "evangelists" and "Bible-pushers", but in the immortal words of my nephew "stop doing that!". The group is about loving on people regardless of their appearance, socio-economic status or station in life and fighting that "terrible disease of loneliness". Period.

Loneliness. What if anti-loneliness thoughts drove our actions? What if instead of 'anti-loneliness' we talked about 'inclusion' and undiscriminating 'love'? What if we focused on learning more about others and so doing learned more about ourselves? How we think, feel and love.

Though this may seem - and, in fact, is - counterintuitive to this blog, I gave up hiking for lent (well not entirely). Two days a week I substitute what would have been hikes with people-time: coffee with friends, homeless outreach, catching up with the HS youth group students. The exercise has proven fruitful in its first full week, allowing for a life-giving homeless outreach outing and an opportunity to reconnect with two of my favorite thinkers Aaron McPeck and Brian Marsh over gelato at Cafe Dolce. If lent is about getting closer to God through sacrifice and the examination of vices than "call me maybe". I have no idea what that means, but truly, I have seen the face of something of greater purity and honesty in the faces of the friends and strangers this week. It defies logic. Linds, my girlfriend, also defies logic. She appears always on the leading edge of something pure and honest that defies my sense of logic. At once it induces joy and beckons humility.

The point of all of that is this: I learned this week through homeless outreach, lent, Jesus and Kurt Vonnegut that loneliness is a loathsome disease and through people (relationships, authentic relationships) and the conception of the interconnectedness of all things - some sort of god - we may be closer to the cure than previously thought.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Week in Review (Feb. 8-14)

Total vertical feet: 12,750 feet
Daily average (week): 1,821 feet
Daily average (2013): 1,982 feet
Biggest vertical day: Mount Sentinel double (~4,000 feet)
Shortest vertical day: Walk to work? (~40 feet, including stairs)
Most cupcakes eaten in a day: 4
Photo of the week: self-portrait of Wesley Bowman and my shadows overlooking Missoula from the summit of Mont Sentinel.

Another week in the books! 10,800 feet shy of the 100,000 feet mark, I head into my 7th week of the project hot on the pace. To reach the 500,000 foot mark in a non-leap year, one would have to average ~1,370 feet/day. Currently, I am sitting at ~1,982 feet/day for the first 45 days of the year. At this pace, 723,430 feet is the mark. Too high! I am going to have to keep the pace honest and dial it down to stay healthy for the duration. 

The biggest challenge with a long-term endurance effort is simply staying healthy. Motivation to romp in the woods and climb hills? It is there! And ain't going anywhere. But healthy joints and a sturdy constitution require proper care including my least favorite self-care principle: rest.

I don't know that I can fully express in writing how in love with outdoor movement I am. If it were physically possible, my mind would have me walking in perpetuity. Truthfully, my conception of heaven is an eternal saunter in the mountains. Anyways, back to the point, balance is not only a component of a healthy life, but necessary for a successful long-term endurance effort. Oh boy...

All this to say, my health is good. I took a partial sick day on Monday to recover from a dose of methotrexate (the doc's thought). Nausea and light-headedness rendered me incapacitated. Time, rest, water and folic acid proved to be the remedy. Beyond those side effects, I am doing pretty dang good: my arms/hands are satisfied with their nightly wrist guard treatment and my knees are happiest in braces.

All right, time to take a break from the vertical and get horizontal. Nap time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mount Sentinel Double

"Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart." Proverbs 3:3
I had the great fortune of standing on top of Mount Sentinel twice today: once alone and once with Dave Massey, First Presbyterian Churches' Interim Youth Director (trail name, "Big D").

Today, after a sluggish day yesterday - methotrexate and/or arava are slowing me down! -, I resolved to push through the side effects and get up the mountain. Sometimes you simply have to puff out your cheeks, shake your head and make that "bllllllllll" sound (picture an adult entertaining a baby). Following the work day, I hiked the ridge trail of Sentinel alone, making for a rather uneventful, yet enjoyable outing. Sigur Ros was in my ears and joy was in my heart. 

I then cruised on over to the clinic for a quick date with a phlebotomist, who promptly drew my blood and covered the damage with a Garfield bandaid. 

Now for the good stuff. After a rather swift, yet productive, Youth Committee meeting at First Pres church, Big D and I headed for the hills for a night hike of Mount Sentinel.

Hiking alone is relatively predictable: familiar iPod playlists, the general cacophony of Missoula/I-90/woods and the characters/songs that come alive in moments of deep, rhythmatic ennui. Of course the woods are a spectacular place full of beauty and life, but like any place that much time is spent even the spectacular can become ordinary. 

Anyways, hiking with friends and acquaintances - and probably enemies - provides a wholly unpredictable experience spurred on by the spirit of the wood. Movement and beauty conspire to dissolve our greatest worries and deepest fears, resulting in something close to pure, uninterrupted conversation. Tonight was no exception. Dave and I discussed the joys of working with the youth at First Pres, which ascended, then descended (literally, tracking our hike) into a soul-bearing discussion on Christianity. Soul-bearing in this sense: as is there wont, the woods extracted honest responses to questions of faith that are left shielded by the noise/pace of the "concrete jungle". Dave is a good friend. A great friend. The best sort of friend that helps you access that which is latent. 

Hiking solo, hiking with a friend, these are the simple joys of life.

Now, time for that shot of Humira.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Into the Thermosphere

ther·mo·sphere [thur-muh-sfeer] noun: the region of the upper atmosphere in which temperature increases continuously with altitude, encompassing essentially all of the atmosphere above the mesosphere. The thermosphere begins at 275,000 feet above sea level and extends up to 620 miles above sea level.
If our vertical limits as humans were defined by the hospitable regions of the Earth's atmosphere, we would be - as the collective human race - "beauty incomplete". Had humans never bothered to climb the world's highest mountains or invent crafts to travel through our atmosphere and beyond, we would be left with an incomplete picture of the harsh, yet tranquil beauty of the Earth. Men and women have climbed the highest peaks and explored space affording us terra firms humans a glimpse, not only in picture, but through narrative, into the wilds and "the great beyond".

As a mountain athlete with rheumatoid arthritis - and a human! -, I am no stranger to vertical limits. In 2013, with a cheery prognosis from the doc, I decided to take on the challenge of hiking 500,000 vertical feet with a minimum of 100 summits of Mount Sentinel and University Mountain in Missoula. Why? Because it brings me great joy!

This blog will document the journey to 500,000 feet, the lower reaches of the thermosphere. My intent in writing any of this is not rooted in the desire to dazzle, but rather in the importance of storytelling, sharing my experience managing rheumatoid arthritis, hiking/climbing, faith struggles, pain and ultimately joy!

Stay tuned for posts and vertical feet status updates weekly. Follow your heart and if it compels you to follow this blog, all the better. Let the journey begin!