Saturday, July 18, 2015

Liven Pain

I run to be here, and here is beautiful.

"…some people say I'm heavy, they don't know what I hide." Ozzy Osbourne (old tunes)

Sprinting over rocks, and roots, I feel connected to the trail. The trail has been there for me lately, or better yet, I've been there more and more, on the trail, with running shoes, my thoughts, and the emotion.

Some days I can't hide it, and I run from the gut. I run the fear and madness away and tap into the sounds of the trail, or the music in my earphones. I don't feel right if I don't get out there on the trail and run. I take everything in my life that's difficult, and I leave it behind me in the dirt, sweat, and tears.

"If the world gets you down, don't be afraid to wrestle it." Birdy (new tunes)

Chris Bender is a Hulk, and he is my strength conditioning coach at Fuel Fitness. As a trainer he is unbelievable. Last month while training for my first trail race, The Old Gabe 50K, I pulled a muscle in my back at the bouldering gym.

My first thought was Hulk would take it easy on me. I'd show up for my weekly session, complain about being injured, and I get away with a light routine. Easy and done, right?

Well, I call him Hulk Bender for a reason. Sure he's the nicest guy in the gym and everyone knows him, and I feel cool just talking to him, but he's been a strength condition coach for more than twenty years, and is amazing at what he does.

The three weeks I dealt with a back injury were some of the best and hardest workouts I've done with Hulk. Outside he had me sprinting up and down the sidewalk, holding handles out in front of me like superman, attached to the heavy car tire I was dragging behind me.

Then I'm inside doing half-squats, where the bar is raised half way up. Hulk is always paying attention to my form, and asking me how I feel, and if everything is ok. Then we move up in weight, until I'm half-squating so much more weight than I've ever full-squated before. And all this with a very painful pulled muscle in my mid back. (Disclaimer: Don't try this at home. Use professional help.)

My back felt better each week, and each session with Hulk made a noticeable difference. As an athlete I know the importance of not letting an injury take over. Growing up as a soccer player, I played some of my best games injured, and felt ripped off if I walked away from a game without a battle wound.

In the fall of 2001 I met Rob Smets in Denver at Larry Lancaster's Rock and Roll Rodeo School. Rob was our bullfighting (or rodeo clown) instructor for the three day bruiser. To this day, I have yet to meet anyone as intimidating, and real, as Rob. He's like a Samurai Warrior in a Cowboy outfit. The way he spoke was direct, and when he called out your name to jump in there and save the fucking day, you did.

Rob scared me. When we first met, I don't think Rob liked my pony-tail, and told me if I was some college drop-out, looking for kicks, to tell some stories, then I'd better get lost and pack my bags, cause I'm just going to get someone hurt…... I liked Rob, and his Texas attitude. I told him I was an ice climber, and just moved from Alaska. Then I told him I'd grown up at Montana rodeos, watching the famous Flint Rasmussen, and this was something I wanted for myself, no one else.

By the end of the three days, Rob and I got along so well that when I got hooked and cartwheeled by a huge bull, he laughed so hard some of the parents commented. Then everyone saw the grin on my face and he said, "look, I've been cartwheeled in front of huge audiences who laugh." Then he pulled me aside and said, "if you want to make a living, and you break some ribs, you have to take shorter breaths, because you don't get paid by sitting down." He spoke from experience, and that was exactly what I came for. Thanks Rob, huge respect.

So on a whim, I entered the Old Gabe 50K. I'd been trail running for about three months, and I was quasi training for something. My life has changed dramatically, and well, I don't do small things. In fact, I didn't know about the race until about three weeks before the event…….. What the hell, right? I'd fallen in love with trail running, and pushing myself feels good - but my backed ached like crazy, and at times I couldn't tell if the pain was down in my hip, or up in my back. Sitting was painful, but running felt good, so I kept at it, and began focusing on the race and wanting to finish strong.

Two weeks before the race I went to Adam Burke @ Spring Integrative Health for a massage. At this point I thought I needed chiropractic help, because things weren't getting better, and the pain sucked.

Adam assured me it was a pulled muscle, nothing spinal. He noted my rotated hip, my dominate right side, and we talked about body work, and how the body aligns for each person. The session was painful and took time to recover from. Thanks Adam. Therapeutic massage is one of the best forms of body work you can do for yourself.

The Old Gabe 50K is one of the toughest 50K's in the country. There's four steep climbs that cover more than 11,000 vertical feet. The trail is rocky, and there is not a single flat section over the 31 mile course. I bonked on the final steep downhill, from pain in my quads, and finished the race in 17th place with a time of 8 hours, 32 minutes. And yeah, I loved it.

It was great to meet the other racers, and my hat goes off to all of you. A few honourable mentions to the overall winners, Peder Anderson, and Becky Wheeler who set a course record, and John Hallsten who placed 15th overall and first in the men's senior. Inspiration, respect, good game, high fives and butt slaps all around.

Chris Bender @ Fuel Fitness
Injured myself bouldering again this week. 
Intense hour long work out with torn stomach muscle.
I would never attempt this without a professional trainer.
Every week is a new routine. 
Side-stepping sumo squats w/ ankle strap.

Keeping a runner's log.

Life is emotional, so I try to write it down as I go, but mostly
it's a waste of time.

Ran to this lake last week on a whimsical day east of town.

Race Bib, and the Amazing Grass performance enhancer.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Flow or Die

Setting a pint of Coldsmoke in front of me right as I sit down, the bartender says, "This one's on the house, you look like you've had a hard day." Her voice is beautiful, and I savour the sound in my mind.

Apparently she had seen me coming for days.

I smile and say, "Thann…ks." It comes out slow. I'm trying to count the number of days I've just spent, battling with myself, my desires, and the elements.  I wanted to say, "27!", and blurt it out, like a survivor on TV.

But I never did. I was still in the zone, starring at my beer, totally spaced out and unable to ask a beautiful woman for her name.

Long exposure, or high doses, to flow states leave me stupid, and unable to make sentences in my head. It happens all the time on long expeditions, long days in the mountains, running, biking, climbing, skiing, etc...

Technically this is fine, because the brain is shutting down parts it doesn't need.

But sometimes it's embarrassing when I forget how to order off a menu, or why I'm standing in line, under bright lights, around people who smell nice.

But really, flow states are the most rewarding, addictive, and powerful experiences we can have. It's what I live for, and there are so many flow states to go through, so many transitions, lapses with time, and differences in power and effects.

A full force macro-flow state, where time might stop completely, and reaction and super human strength become required - these are often do or die moments. I've had them falling off a roof, surviving an avalanche, and being attacked by two english mastiffs.

In these experiences everything changed. Time changed, thought patterns changed, and the voice inside my head changed.

Make no mistake, finding flow is the most dangerous thing you can do.

When I fell off the roof I was 18 years old and working in Santa Cruz, Ca.  I knew I would be fine right away. I'd slipped on a piece of masking paper, and was speeding towards the edge of the building. Below the boss and the home owner were screaming, but my mind was calm. I was ready to take the plunge off the roof, there was no escaping it. I was backwards, with a giant paint bucket in my right hand, but knew if I could spin around, I'd land on my feet or my ass, and not on my head. There was no fear in my body, and I can remember thinking to myself, "would you please stop screaming down there, I'm the one falling off the building."

I landed on my feet, sort of, cracked my left wrist, and didn't spill any paint. The look on the land-lady's face - priceless.

The day I survived being swept in a deadly avalanche in Valdez, was another one of those experiences. It was like I knew how to survive, on a whole different level.

The Spring of 2000 was a dangerous year to be a skier in Valdez. In two short weeks there were so many avalanche burials and rescues it was hard to keep count. Twice, entire guided groups got swept, and many people, including guides, were seriously injured. Thankfully nobody died.

My friend Will and I had spent the night in a snow cave high on Mount Diamond, one of the tallest peaks in the area. Our reasoning for going up high during avalanche danger, was higher and steeper slopes were holding better snow, and most the avalanches were happening at lower elevations and lower angled slopes.

We planned to ski something big that day, maybe off the summit.  As we went higher, the danger became apparent and we turned around and were heading down. The slide happened on the final 2,000 foot slope, less than 30ยบ degrees steep.

Will went first, and I waited. There was no safe spot to watch from so I just stood there and waited. When I did approach the edge and start down, I triggered a class 3 avalanche. It was two to three feet deep and propagated a hundred meters to my right, and more than three hundred meters to my left.

The last thing I saw before going into survival mode, was Will in a death-tuck, and the lighting bolt crack of the avalanche propagating towards him, like he had pissed off Zeus. It was real life James Bond. The avalanche cracked over a quarter mile, and Will out ran the lighting bolt by less than ten feet, pushing his skinny telemark skis to the max, and dashing into the safety of an adjacent slope and the comfort of a dense forrest, just in time...

My ride was different. I was in the avalanche, as it had cracked about ten feet behind me. At first it started moving slowly, and there was a moment where I thought I had options. Then I realized the size of the avalanche, and at the bottom of the slope was a deep ravine and a two hundred foot drop into a tight chasm. I had to get out, there was no surviving this ride.

Flow creates action with no hesitation. I can remember everything that happened and everything I did to get myself out of the avalanche, I just don't know how I did it. My mind spoke in the most comforting and soothing way. I was able to produce complete images, that operated like thoughts.

I knew how deep the slide layer was, and the amount of force I would need to puncture through with my ski poles. I knew to choke up on my poles, grab both poles with both hands, and blast downward into the snow,  and pierce the hard icy layer underneath. Then I had to hold on for dear life, as the slide washed over my head.

When my ski detached,  I calmly reached down with one hand and grabbed it. It was like super-cognition. Like I knew my ski was about to release, because there was no way I could have reacted that fast. No way, right?

Not without flow.

The day my neighbour's english mastiffs attacked me, time stopped completely. I was skiing down the road next to my cabin when the attack happened. At first all I could do was back up and swing my ski poles at the two dogs, and yell at them. But as the attack continued, two things happened - the dogs narrowed their distance and my fear grew like a giant balloon.

The last moment before my blood would have been spilt, time stopped. And I mean - it stopped completely. One hand was above my head holding onto the ski pole, the other hand stretched out in front of me with the other ski pole. The two dogs had me cornered, one was flanked low on my left side and the other was taking point, inches in front of my face with his mouth open and his teeth out.

When time stopped, I wasn't thinking about whether I'd see my family again, I was visualizing how to kill two big dogs with my bare hands. Then I took a pin and popped the balloon of fear inside me, made peace with the world, and prepared for battle.

When I hit the go button, and time resumed, I dropped both of my ski poles and went for the kill. It was awesome, because dogs smell fear, and because I'd lost mine, both dogs retreated, and found me chasing them into their yard, yelling at the owner behind his door,,,,,, "IF I EVER SEE THOSE DOGS AGAIN, THEY'RE DEAD!"

My neighbour was a notorious boxing promoter in Anchorage, a scumbag under most opinions, and probably watching the whole attack. I never did see those dogs again.

So how does flow work, and what is it? I've read a couple books about the subject that I would recommend to anyone. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  detailing the psychology of  flow, and The Rise Of Superman, by Steven Kotler, exploring the potential of human performance in flow.

What I will say, is flow comes from the heart. It is heart-wave medicine, and flow is the reason I consider myself an artist, and have survived more than two decades as a mountaineer. Thanks for reading, now I am off for a run so I can get a cheap runner's high, (or some micro-flow.)

Thompson Pass, Valdez, AK.

Mount Diamond, largest peak center of photo.

Below the north face of Mount Diamond.

DG's cabin @ 19mile.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Rolling Stone

I ask a lot of questions. Like how do you be an actual Rolling Stone? Is it possible? I've seen stones fall, and then start rolling. Maybe that's it. Maybe you have to fall?

Early in life, I knew what I wanted, and I had a list of places in North America where I would live. I was a skier, it was the start of the 90's, and I wanted to become a bad-ass mountaineer.

I fell in love with mountaineering by reading Greg Childs' book Thin Air, along with a number of other books. Climbing mountains captivated me in a way nothing else did. The books were covered with words I barely understood and photographs I longed to be in. There was something special about the sport of mountaineering that I identified with. Maybe it was the stark nature of it. The black and white, do or die shit, with no posturing. Just the ability to tell the truth.

When I met Lynn Hill in the Buttermilks, in 2002, the experience changed my life. I'd never met anybody like that before, had never seen muscle tone like that before, and I had never seen anybody bow and greet their friends like a warrior.

I had left Valdez, AK and was moving to Joshua Tree, CA for the winter. One of my best friends convinced me to come down to the desert, and take a winter off from skiing. At first the idea of not skiing for the winter was preposterous. Skiing was how I identified myself as a person, and there was no way I was going to take an entire winter off.

Well,,,, something was telling me it was time. For almost a decade I had skied a hundred plus days each season in Jackson, Girdwood, or Valdez. I was at the peak of my game in 2001, throwing down (heli-free) first descents in Valdez, and living right on the best ski highway in the world. Why move to the desert, and live with a bunch of rock climbers?

Well,,,, this might sound weird, but skiing wasn't doing it for me anymore. American skiers wanted to go heli-skiing, and I wanted to be a mountaineer, in line with the history of mountaineering I knew from the books I read. There was no skiing literature, and ski-mountaineering had not become an accepted art-form in North America yet. I needed something more - a new arena to play in, real heroes, and a fresh twist on living with meaning.

The day before I met Lynn, I was sitting in the boulder field with a group of people, and turned just in time to see the silhouette of a woman standing on a boulder. Immediately, and without thinking, I knew who it was, even though she was far away. Startled and in awe, I didn't know what to do, and didn't say anything to anybody. It seemed powerful, to have such an instantaneous realization.

The next day Lynn walked up while I was at the Iron Man Traverse. There were only a couple of us there, we exchanged pleasantries, and climbed together. I can't say how, or what, because I was flailing at the boulder problem, but Lynn noticed something in me, and mentioned it to her friend. I wanted to cry and thank Lynn, because I felt lost without skiing in my life at the time, and I was having identity issues.

Lynn is considered one of the best climbers ever, male or female. She told me she spent an entire summer climbing in Yosemite on $50. I'd read her book, and knew the legacy of Yosemite climbing. I was a dirtbag myself, and honour what it takes to be a renegade in the sport you love. Thank you Lynn. Our brief encounter has guided me in ways I can not repay.

That winter in J-Tree I forgot about skiing for minutes, hours, and even days at a time. I was living in a tent in the national park, climbing everyday, and working at Crossroads Cafe in town. I had hitch-hiked to California, and had no plan for the future, or for skiing. I started dating a hot climber chick named Sue Cramm, and thought I might follow her to the Tetons in the spring.

I didn't know it then, but one chapter in my life was over, and a new one was beginning. My days of just being a ski bum were numbered, and I was about to go on my first "human-powered" expedition. Looking back, it seems so perfect, but during those months in J-Tree I was a wreck. When I did think about skiing, it was with a deep sense of loss. I felt like I had lost a close friend, and I wanted to go back to the way things were, but knew it was impossible.

I feel stuck in a similar place these days not being on a bicycle. Like I've lost another friend, and I can't go back to the way things were. I rode a bicycle to go on skiing, rock-climbing, and mountaineering expeditions for eight years before using the tag line "human-powered." Then I chased sponsors for another five years, becoming obsessed with being a professional. Frankly, I don't know what's easier - chasing sponsors, or painting houses, and working in cafes?

I do know it's all worth it. The constant moving, chasing dreams, and falling from grace.

It's ok to lose your identity every ten or fifteen years, as long as you move on, and keep listening to the stones.

Came across this amazing spring, complete with serving cup.

Revisiting old haunts.

Bought a motorcycle. 
Justin Short, ultra runner and counselor at Spring Integrative Health.

To do what I do as an athlete and an artist, I have a network of doctors, counsellors, therapists, and trainers as a support team. It's no secret about my crazy childhood, drug addiction, friends dyeing, depression, rage, and all the pressure that goes with wanting to be the best.

I don't know what this next chapter in life will be. So for now I have picked up trail running, and I love it. I feel young again, like a weight has been lifted off of me, and in fact I have no desire to carry, haul, drag, or pull a heavy pack around for awhile. Cheers,