Monday, December 10, 2012


The absence of articles in the last four months is a result of the extreme fun I have been preoccupied with.  Now that I'm settled in for the winter, I can finally take a second to reflect and break it down.

After a very chill and isolated, yet extremely pleasant summer in the high country of Colorado, I made my way out to the Tahoe area to work at the fall edition of the Stanford Sierra Conference Center…again.  Aside from the excellent working conditions I mentioned in an article after my last stint there, the place, is a perfect opportunity to elongate summer in high country.

While, I find the high Rockies quite suiting for most of my intents and purposes, it really only boasts two usable seasons:  winter and summer.  Fall, at two miles high, is non-existent.  Sure, the aspens turn gold and then loose their leaves, but that process usually takes about four days and can happen in early September.  The Sierras, on the other hand, offers it’s consistent and predictable dry summer conditions well into October.  I took full advantage. 

End of "very chill and isolated, yet extremely pleasant" time.  
For a change of scenery, I headed to the Tahoe area three weeks prior to beginning work.  For the first time in five years, I returned to and spent most of that time at one of my favorite campgrounds not far from Truckee.  Three, blissful weeks were filled with reacquainting myself with the trails, where I originally started mountain running and biking, and finding new spots to park the van and access the goods. 

Fully-charged, I made my way to the south end of the big blue lake and then to the south end of the little blue lake, where I spent the next two months in full-on, non-stop, go-mode. 

Maybe it is the shortness of the season, the endless opportunities for mountain recreation, the perfect weather and/or the abundance of like-minded co-workers, but for me, camp, is not conducive to sleep.  While I have recognized that I no longer suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) tendencies, still 4-5 hours of sleep a night was usually all I could fit in.  This despite the fact or maybe because of the fact, that I am a non-participatory member of the party scene out there.
Last and coldest swim of the season.
This fall marked my third season at this special place and my experiences improve each crack at it.  Possibly from my lack of full-time employment in the last year, but I found my shifts to be legitimately fun.  I could hardly detect a difference in my attitude on or off the clock.  Very special relationships were developed.  Some of which were with bad ass partners, with whom, I would swim (in the lake), mountain bike, or climb the chute (a magical crack in the earth, serving as a natural staircase up the mountain that looms over camp) at any available opportunity.  The short time frame and the large group of co-workers equates to the fact that I was really just getting to know people up until the final moments. 

The Chute...a full-body endeavor.
 The short season came to an abrupt end, but the fun did not stop when the conference season did.  For the second year in a row, I joined a group of co-workers on a pilgrimage to Big Sur when we finished.  Just as the Sierras were getting pounded with snow, we escaped to mild weather for a week of camping on the rugged central coast of California.  This was incredibly chill, finally allowing  me to catch up on sleep and cook for myself, which was valuable in getting ready for what is next.  The spectacular sunsets served as the main source of entertainment and photo opportunities each day. 

Big Sur-ness
I left Big Sur, new favorite person in tow, and made my way through Arizona and New Mexico (a small taste of areas I have yet to explore) to Denver, where I spent Thanksgiving with my fantastically-fun extended family.  After a week in Denver, I headed up to Crested Butte, Colorado, where I am employed for the winter.  I spent a week here in my van deciding where to live and managed to move into a place in Gunnison (30 miles south of Crested Butte and connected by a free bus) the day before my job started and sub-zero temperatures and snow arrived.  Last week, I squeezed in a few sweet runs and rides in an awesome network of trails, just outside of Gunnison, pre-snow.  As of today, I’ve had two days of orientation for my position as a lift operator and have taken a few mellow runs on my snowboard. 

As it continues to dump outside, I am taking advantage of my day off to relax, before I resume the full-on, non-stop, go-mode, that I have a feeling I am going to be sustaining for a long time to come. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The mountains are a year-round playground for those who get their kicks in the outdoors.  Each season brings new opportunities for fun.  While, weather-wise (in the Rockies), one can experience all the seasons within a few hours time, for eight to ten months out of the year the highest parts of the mountains are covered in snow (usually).  There is plenty to do on the snow, but for a short window each summer the high country dries up, revealing spectacular rocky peaks, high alpine meadows, and crystal clear lakes to be explored.  Although a lover of snow, I have to recognize this short window of snow-freeness in the high country as the most wonderful time of year.

The mildness of this past winter opened up the high country earlier than usual (at least where I’ve been (mountains around Leadville, CO)) and I have been taking full advantage.  Usually things are still pretty soggy right now, but I’ve been on dry trails leading my to 14,000’ peaks for over a month now.  It is becoming a serious addiction. 

Every morning my first thought is “Where should I go?” as I jump out of bed and pound down a cup of coffee.  I’m so excited to get out, I skip my habitual second and third cup.  When staying in town, it is less than four miles to get to treeline.  Here, I usually pause to take it in and lay in the thick, spongy alpine tundra, noticing what new wildflowers are showing themselves today.  Every few days a new color joins the party.  Then I continue on, usually exploring somewhere new for me, climbing over ridges, through valleys, up another saddle, down the other side.  At the tops, I usually just look around and decide what to do next time.  Most of these excursions have ranged from 3-6 hours so far.

The last two summers, I have done my best to be uncommitted to anything else during this time.  It is so short and sweet that I cannot dream of being anywhere else.  I’m not even training for anything specific, just roaming around for the pure enjoyment of moving in the most beautiful scenery I know of.  And I am loving it. 

Last week, I left my happy place, on short notice, to return to the swamplands (Midwest) for a funeral.  While I faced slight withdrawal symptoms (especially because I didn't run for a few days because it was too hot), it just makes me more excited to get back up there.  On my last outing, the wildflowers seemed on the verge of peaking.  I expect them to be mind-blowing when I get back tomorrow or the next day. 

“I came for the winters, but stayed for the summers,” is a common explanation for mountain transplants.  Spend a week up here in the summer and it is easy to see why…especially if coming from the swamplands of the Midwest, East Coast or Southeast.  The lack of humidity was reason enough to never return to the air-conditioned confines from which I came.  While there can be a whole other set of discomforts-dust, fires, tourists-I’ll take these any day over feeling the need to shower after a walking out to the mailbox.  And I don’t find any of these inconveniences above treeline.  So, if I go missing, you can at least narrow your search to anywhere above 12,000’.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Another Perfect Job for the Noncommittal

As I enjoy my last day of spring break and prepare to return to what may be two more months of substitute teaching, I realize I have found another perfect-fitting job for Camp Fancy-Free.  Luckily, as my tolerance and flexibility for bullshit continues to diminish, I am finding more income-generating matches to my lifestyle.  The latest…substitute teaching…currently in Leadville, Colorado

Its (just about) always sunny in Leadville the last two months.
I had pretty much written off any school/teacher-related work after my experience teaching during my initial stint in Leadville.  I first moved to Leadville soon after graduating from college and signed up to be a substitute teacher, upon my friend, Sara’s, suggestion.  That year, I was called in on the first day of school for a vacant high school special education teacher and proceeded to masquerade in that position for a whole school year.  Without getting into too much detail, I’ll only say that it was a great experience and it scared me away from the profession.  I never really considered subbing or teaching again, until a few months ago when I wanted to get a job, but couldn’t imagine giving up the autonomy that I had been thoroughly enjoying the previous couple of months.  The subustiuting idea dawned on me one day, while hanging out in Bozeman, Montana.  I checked the Lake County School District page, saw they needed subs, and headed towards Leadville.  After moving in with my friend, Wizard and filling out the necessary paperwork, I became licensed to substitute in Colorado and proceeded to get called into work everyday since.  After one month, I conclude it is perfect for my intents and purposes.

First, it most obviously fits my criteria in that it is temporary.  Signing up with only three months in the school year guarantees an end in sight.  This is of single most importance to me.  I never want to have to lie or mislead an employer, but I not looking for a job for the long haul.  Since most employers are looking for the exact opposite criteria in a potential employee, my job searches are limited to short-term opportunities such as seasonal work, special events or projects, and in this case…school!  I can put up with a lot more when I know there is a definite end date. 

The next most awesome thing is that I literally get to choose if I want to work each day.  A lady calls me and ASKS me if I want to work and I can answer yes or no.  This is what I make believe I do with every job.  It is definitely easier to achieve that mindset when it is my reality.  Becasue I came here with the intention of working, I've accepted everyday, but then my family made last minute plans to visit.  No problem, I just said no those days.  Perfect!

Third, everyday is different.  I have thus far agreed to do K-12th grades.  That is a wide spectrum of crazy.  Different places and different faces everyday.  This greatly contributes to my enthusiasm and ability to stick it out no matter how insane it gets in those classrooms. 

A rare moment of calm with third graders, who always make me earn it.
Don’t get me wrong, this job can be rough…some days.  My experience has been that the younger they are, the more of my energy they require.  Most days I leave feeling exhausted.  But as I mentioned, it is just a single serving of each group.  Just one day at a time.  Very manageable.  And other days, especially at the high school, I sit around and read all day.  Or on the best days, when subbing for a gym teacher, I get to play basketball all day! 

So, subbing is perfect.  It is temporary, my daily choice, and provides variety.  The pay is good enough.  And it is in lovely Leadville.  Not necessarily the best place to spend mud season, but it MIGHT be a short one as Leadville has just experienced one of the mildest winters on record.  I, however, just escaped the mud for a week for the lower, warmer and dryer towns south of here.  That is right.  After just one month of working, it is spring break.  I had no choice but to leave and enjoy a week of living in the van and running and biking on sick, dry, singletrack in the desert-esque towns of Buena Vista and Salida.  

Dry trails for spring break.  (Salida, Colorado)
Ask me again in two months, but as of now, I shall add substitute teaching to the list of Camp Fancy-Free’s pre-approved jobs.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Endorphins and Adrenaline

My name is Rebecca and I am addicted to endorphins.  No surprise if you know me.  I NEED a daily dose of endorphins for my overall well-being.  Sometimes I get my fix from a long epic adventures and other times in quick crackhead-like fashion from short, fast runs or crossfit or the like.  Both have their time and place and either does the trick.  Yesterday, I got it from the latter.  A winter triathalon.  Short, sweet (ass-kicking), and fun.

Maybe it is winter or just a needed downtime, but lately, I’ve been taking it real easy.  I’m still get my daily dosage, but I’m certainly not anywhere close to top form.  But like a true addict, I wasn't going to miss out on the opportunity for self-ass-kicking just becuase I wasn't in shape for it or practiced in two of three techniques (biking on snow and skate skiing).  It would only make it hurt more.  So, yesterday, I made my way to a cute little cross country ski lodge just east of ButteMontana for a 5k run, 10k bike, and a 5k skate ski all on groomed cross country ski trails.

As expected, the Powderhound Winter Triathlon delivered.  I got my fix.  It was briefly painful, yet fun.  Something a little different.  The run did not feel good.  I should have run at least that far to warm up.  I said that it was all groomed, but only really for the frontrunners.  Every surface I crossed was already torn-up, making it even more of a challenge.  Especially for the bike.  Since I found out about this a week ago, I’ve gotten out on the bike a couple of times and tried to ride on snow.  Mostly I practiced on ice, which is sketchier, but easier, than torn-up snow.  There was lots of pushing.  The parts I could ride were really fun with the added element of having to have perfect balance and acute focus because you couldn’t really be sure of the surface.  I only wiped out once and it wasn’t bad.  Slow-motion.  Then there was the skate ski.  Why not have my first time skate skiing this year be in a race (and the first time I’ve every skied in a race)?  I can’t think of a reason.  Maybe because it is the last of three legs of a race I’m already not in shape for.  Ehh.  No worries.  It was ugly, but I finished.  I’m not that great at skate skiing anyway as I only have one speed.  I have no equivalent to walking, which is what I needed to do at a few points, but instead just came to a dead stop, holding myself up by my poles.  And I managed to pull off my trademark move (tripping myself by poling inside my skis) about 15 yards from the finish line.  What fun would it have been to splat out in the woods when I could do it for an audience?

It wasn't pretty, but it hit the spot.  I really just like races.  I like having everything arranged, so I can just give it my all.  It hurt so good.  And it was a great event.  These folks, who also run this lodge and resort, had it together.  The whole facility is really nice.  it was a fun, well-marked course.  Good food afterwards.  Bluegrass band.  Nice awards.  An all-around pleasant atmosphere. 

After my first shower in five days, I loaded up Mama, still buzzing on endorphins and headed out for the final leg of the journey.  I had been worried about getting to the place as it was three miles down a forest service road that was plowed, but was covered in packed snow and ice.  I had slept at the beginning of the road the night before and had my chains on to get in there early and not to hold up any traffic as it is super-slow going with chains on.  It was fine getting in.  Getting out however, was another story.  I could tell right away it was sketchy.  The road had become a sheet of ice from everyone driving in and out on it.  I was sliding on small declines.  I had to go really slow and try to keep the one set of wheels in the unpacked snow on the sides.  It was going okay and I started thinking to myself that maybe I had been holding myself back by not just putting chains on more often and heading down these types of roads (as I do in the non-snowy months).  Nope, I was right the first time.  I started to go down a hill as slow as I possibly could, when the van started sliding and I had no control.  It was a slow motion from here.  The van is slidding towards the side of the road, which was a thirty-forty foot steep bank into a ravine.  I open my door ready to jump out as Mama doesn’t seem to be stopping.  I crash into the bank.  We are still moving very slowly.  Should I jump out?  I don't want to if she is going to stop.  She stops.  I freeze.  From my angle I seem to be balancing over the edge.  In a very slow movement I put the car in park and put the parking break on and get out.  When my feet hit the ground, I fall onto all fours and start slidding down.   The ground as it is completely ice.  Holy adrenaline.  I’m nearly laughing, crying, and shitting myself at the same time. 

A few carloads of people pull up behind me, most of whom seemed to be workers at the event and locals.  They get a hold of the race director guy, who agrees to come yank me out with his loader.  One very nice lady waits with me and we sit in her car and chat and share and beer until Mama’s rescuer comes.  From behind, I can tell Mama isn’t quite hanging over as it felt like from the drivers seat, but it still looks bad.  Or like it could have been really bad.  The guy shows up and yanks her out, then drives her down this sketchy hill for me and sends me on my way.  What a race director! 

Now, with a full dose of endorphins AND adrenaline I head home, which this week is Bozeman, Montana (a story for another day).  I enjoy a beautiful ride through the Gallatin Valley just as the sun is setting, fully jacked up on chemicals of my own creation.  Good times!   

(Here is a mention in Butte paper, unfortunately not for my performance.)