Sunday, July 28, 2013

Delusions of grandeur quelled by heat-induced delusions and new information

Dehydration is nothing if not humbling. Being humbled is nothing if not humbling. The day's weather on my 75th ascent of Mount Sentinel this year was nothing if not humbling.

95 degrees and windless, Thursday's outing challenged the dynamic tension between heat and water retention. With every labored breathe I could feel my body's water content evaporating. Like a watermelon in a food dehydrator, my body was tormented as it lamented the loss of its vital liquid.

From the outset of the 75th ascent, I felt invincible: strong, swift, steady and focused. These are the elements that, when experienced in excess, can take a person from self-assuredness straight to hubris. I am unstoppable and unflappable! This jump from self-assuredness to grand control over all is not so much a slippery slope as a concave precipice: it unequivocally ends in a crash.

Life, in its fullness, is quick to remind us of our limits. I failed to adjust my standard pace on account of the heat. 15 minutes in and halfway to the summit my body's water resources were depleted: dehydration had determined that I would be a vessel of its moisture vacuity on this day. So it goes. And so it went.

Unwilling to accept that something like heat could affect my performance, I pushed on, on pace for the standard 30 minute ascent. A few minutes later I was standing on the summit. The heat had vanquished the precious life-sustaining goodness called water. It won handedly. Bad decisions rarely yield good results. This instance was no exception.

Nausea set in. Stomach cramps took hold. A slight twinge in the fore of my head portended of aches to come. As usual, I did not linger on the summit. I headed down at a brisk pace wishing away all of the symptoms that had developed (I also quietly harangued myself for the poor decision making that had gotten me to this point).

The descent, as usual, was also uneventful, save for the sickness that had settled in. To distract myself, I remained focused on the prize: a drinking fountain at the base of the mountain. 30 minutes later, I found myself where I started, sucking down copious amounts of water from the drinking fountain. I counted my blessings, stretched and hopped on my bike for a short ride home.

I had been in this place - dehydration and heat exhaustion - many times before during my ultra-marathon running days. I imbibed 20 ounces of Gatorade and 40+ ounces of water upon getting home. The story does not get any more interesting from this point. In fact, it probably peaked on top of the mountain. I recovered quickly and feel like a million bucks again, etc. etc.

All right. So. At the Mount Sentinel Trailhead, before heading up, I noticed a small index card tacked to general notice board. On it read: "#5000 to the top of mount sentinel, RLS, 05/25/2013". If I am reading this correctly, RLS, whomever that is, completed their 5000th summit of Mount Sentinel this week. That is mind-blowing!  We are talking on average 100 summits a year for 50 years or 200 summits a year for 25 years. Unbelievable! This new information, was immediately humbling, reminding me that my goal of 100 summits of Mount Sentinel in 2013 was, in the world of serious hikers and athletes, peanuts. It was a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.

Any delusion of grandeur, of being great or exceptional this day, the 75th ascent, was quickly brought into check by the elements, God's realm, and by human performance, God's other realm. This isn't to say that I really considered myself great, but I did consider the objective unique to me. My goal was based solely on my abilities post-RA. And, it lives a balance that includes family, friends, work and other hobbies. The elements and humans will always challenge that fine line between self-assuredness and hubris.

We ought to do things for our own betterment in the context of a community. Without that grounding, that context, we are simply tinkering with the status quo of self-gratification and are liable to die - both physically and spiritually - from heat exhaustion and competition.

The moral of this post: drink more water, exercise in the heat smartly and never compare yourself to others, especially those that are known to you only by mysterious index cards.

Onward and upward,


Monday, July 22, 2013

A year ago today: vin-dit, wampeters and kingfishers

", a Bokononist word meaning a sudden, very personal shove in the direction of believing that God Almighty knew all about me, after all, that God Almighty had some pretty elaborate plans for me." KV from Cat's Cradle
A year ago today, I had a conversation that changed my life.

The place: Placid Lake (aptly named). The people: Aaron McPeck and Linds Sanders.

A year ago yesterday, I opted to sleep under the stars next to the glowing embers of a dimming campfire. This, over a cozy space in the tent with Aaron and Linds. The decision to sleep outside had everything to do with the yen for open air, a big sky and solitude. 

A year ago today, a calm, crisp dawn greeted us, setting the stage for a comfortable, relaxed morning. Eager to get a line in the water and pass the morning throwing some casts, I headed down to the beach area near our campsite to scope out the water. To my surprise, I was not the first to seek the serenity of the morn. Linds had set up shop on the beach with a journal and book. My initial reaction, as it is in all cases when you are seeking solitude of any kind, was something like discouragement: I was not alone.

As it happened - as it was supposed to happen, Bokonon would say - I noticed Linds scanning the edge of the water eagerly in the direction opposite of me. She was rapt. My curiosity was piqued. I dispensed with my fishing plans and walked over to where Linds was seated to see what there was to see. She greeted me with a smile that quickly affirmed my decision. We exchanged morning niceties and got down to business: what's out there? what was she watching so intently? 

A kingfisher, as it turns out. A kingfisher! She went on to tell me about their call, how they hunt and where they live. I heard the call first. We waited. Then, with the precision of a Blue Angel, the bird launched from its perch some 100-150 yards away and flew the tangent, diving, diving, diving. It penetrated the water as if there were nothing but a superficial border between two geo-political realms. Water and sky, where one begins and the other ends is of no matter to the kingfisher, on one side of the line lives prey and on the other no prey. There was a momentary pause, the ripples dissipating, before the country-less bird emerged victorious, fish in beak. It returned to its perch, quarry in possession, and resumed its call.

As captivating as the scene was, Linds and I were lost in conversation. Highlights, of course. Family. Friends. Hiking. Running. Kayaking. Religion. Bucket list birds: kingfisher and the pileated woodpecker. Health. Even the kingfisher couldn't put on a show spectacular enough to draw our attention away from each other. The conversation came easily and joyfully. It was life-giving. We heard each other say things that we felt, but had never expressed before. We laughed, we smiled, we sighed. 

A year ago today, Linds and I began a forever conversation.

Onward and upward,


P.S. In other news, 22 days into July, I am sitting at 26,500 vertical feet for the month and feeling like a million bucks! Last week, I got up Mount Helena 3 times and Mount Sentinel twice. I love Mount Helena. That is a nice mountain. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pikes Peak or Bust (in pictures)

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. 
The way of life is wonderful: it is by abandonment." 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, from "Circles"
A week ago today, Linds and I returned from something of a pilgrimage to Colorado Springs. Truth-to-tell, the trip was a trip, a vacation, a break from routine. I say "something like a pilgrimage" because the 'trip' included two days on Pikes Peak, one of the richest chapters of this short life. 

Our sojourn was dual-purposed: a Christianson family visit and a jaunt of Pikes Peak, "America's Mountain".

The trip in pictures...

Chapter 1 - Christmas in July (kind of):

The week included a lot of cooking (and eating!) with the my nephew
Caleb and niece Ashlyn.
Not our kids! Hanging out at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
with the kiddos (Wallabies in background).
Another zoo shot with Mom and Ashlyn. 
Stare down.
 Chapter 2 - Outdoors: 
A couple of kissing fools under the 'kissing camels' in Garden of the Gods
during a circumnavigation of the park.
Self-portrait at the trail head for Pikes Peak (~6,200 feet). 
A reading companion at Barr Camp, our camp for the night.
Classic Barr Camp shot (2013)! It was a treat to show Linds this
chapter of my life (when I was a caretaker at Barr).

Barr Camp picture with Mom and Dad (2008).
Early morning snack break on the trail (~12,500 feet)
Headed to 'the cirque' (~13,000 feet)
On the summit of Pikes Peak (14,115 feet)
And that's it. Life is good. In addition to spending some quality time with my brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, mom and dad, Linds and had the pleasure of visiting briefly with my friend Jason and his wife Tiffany and gormandizing with Cody, Beth, Simon and Greta Lillstrom. It was a jam-packed, fireworksless 4th of July, but gosh, it was preciously what it was: life lived.

Onward and upward,