Wednesday, July 27, 2011

If we aren't following our hearts, then what are we doing with the blessing of our lives?

(This is split up in three sections: Beginning thoughts, places I’ve gone, and some self reflection)

An adventure would not be an adventure without low points along with the high points. Without low points, it would be a vacation. While I may be doing some things people do on vacation, I know that I am really on a journey-physical, emotional, and spiritual. All the people I love are with me in spirit, but physically, I travel alone.
To better start off this chapter of my adventure I’d like to start with the wise words of Star Blackford.  It’s some of the best advice I have ever gotten and sums up a lot of the kind and loving support I have received from many people:
“We are who we are, Sandi, and we don't owe anyone any explanations, excuses or rationalizations. Each of us, in our own lives, has to figure out what it is we need to do to live more fully into the people we were created to be. It isn't always easy, and the world at large often has plenty to say about it, but we always know the answers in our hearts. And if we aren't following our hearts, then what are we doing with the blessing of our lives?”
With that said, I truly feel like I am following my heart completely and fully for once. After making a very hard decision to leave TFA, I can say that I have honestly not regretted the decision once. Considering I tend to over think absolutely everything this realization has been a blessing. However, there have been plenty of time where I’ve sat in my car freaking out because I don’t know where the heck I’m headed (at the moment and in life), I miss loved ones, little moments of heart ache, I’m afraid of being alone in the dark, and whatever reasons I unhelpfully come up with at the moment.
This is my way to “figure out what it is we need to do to live more fully into the people we were created to be.” It’s definitely not for everyone who is having a life “crossroads” moment (I feel like everyone will have this moment(s) come sooner or later), but for me, it’s what I need and am lucky enough to be able to do.

The Beginning (What I’ve done so far):
Not to say the desert isn’t beautiful in its own way, but I will be quite happy if I never have to go back to Phoenix. Sorry, cacti, rattlesnakes, 110+ F, birds that screech instead of sing, etc. etc, etc, but I am head over in heels in love with big leafy green trees, green grass and plant life in every directions, running through rivers, and seeing all types of animals that don’t threaten to poison me.
I headed out after getting mobbed by first graders telling me they love me. It was a nice way to go to say the least. I had to take care of some things in Colorado yet I still had enough time to see the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde.
I started off at the Grand Canyon, in which I gave myself a huge surprise. I knew I only had a few hours to spend there and all I really wanted to do was run the rim trails for 2 hrs. Thus, when I saw it was $25 dollars whether I wanted to spend a few hours or a week, I was not happy. I drove up to the ranger in the toll booth and asked him if it was possible to turn around because it’s crazy for one person to pay that much for a few hours when nature should be enjoyed freely to begin with. (This is completely out of character for me). The park ranger just shook his head and told me to just go and enjoy the park! Success! So I ran around the rim looking at absolutely gorgeous scenery (my legs weren’t ready to go down in the canyon and back up from WS100). I would have loved to have camped but I had to move on.

My second day of the trip I headed to Mesa Verde National Park. Of course, there was a fee but this time I felt like the $15 was well worth it (The $15 pass is good for a week but I only had a time to spend a day). I have loved learning about the Native Americans in the area since I was in elementary school. I remember being fascinated that people actually lived in homes built on cliffs and I would gladly do it today if I could. There are 3 main cliff dwellings in the park. In order to go in and get a tour it is $3 but it is well worth it. (There are also plenty of cliff dwellings along the canyons that you can only see if you really look close) I swear if past lives our possible, I was Native American. LOL. Seriously-the culture is beautiful. The bond that these people had with the land is something that is hard to imagine it today’s society. It’s such a pure and simple life. Every rain drop, plant, and ray of sunshine is appreciated because that’s where life stems from. Mesa Verde was the true start of me feeding my need to explore. I spent hours exploring the land from going in the cliff dwellings, learning in the museum, and running/hiking the canyon trails.

Now it was time to head into Denver. After having two days of being surrounded by nature with my spirits soaring I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the city. The purpose of this side trip was to pick up the things that TFA stored for me. When I went into the storage room I tried to hide my shock from the guy helping me out. “Did I really have this much stuff….There is no way this can fit in my car.” I put everything outside of my car and then began my game of real life car Tetris. I won the game, fitting everything, but I couldn’t see out of any of my windows. This wasn’t going to work- I couldn’t waste money on storage, but I had to down size. I spent a good hour worrying about what to do when I finally stopped at a Goodwill. There went 5 boxes of things I really didn’t “need”. Much of it was kitchen appliances from a toaster oven, containers, baking things, etc. I was quite sad to give up the wine glasses but unfortunately they’re not really necessary in the woods. My car was still a little too packed- I spent a good day thinking about giving up the TV and microwave and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I could not part with these things. It’s not that I really care about having these things- but they are the most expensive things I own at the moment. I actually am starting to despise TV. I have barely watched it for 2 months now and I love it. The hours I spent watching dumb TV shows about people who appreciate expensive things rather than loving relationships was ridiculous. Almost every meal I ate was in front of the TV, not exactly what I call healthy- when I was done with my meal I would then sit in front of the TV some more and maybe even get more food even if I was full. Now my meals are spent appreciating nature. When I’m done eating I get up and take a walk or climb on rocks. Yet the TV stays for now in my packed car.

While in Denver I stopped in the humungo REI store. After talking to some old men who for some reason admired my journey instead of thinking I was nuts, I bought my new home on the go! I must admit, I am quite fond of my little tent. It’s quite cozy and so simple I have no problem putting it up in less than 5 minutes. Unfortunately, by the time I bought the tent it was dark out and there is no place to camp in the city. I decided to sleep in a motel one last time. On the way to Denver I slept once in my car. It still had room and I made a bed out of my trunk. It was quite nice compared to the motel I chose! Staying at the motel was by far the most scared I have ever been on this trip that I was going to get raped or have my things stolen. The room smelled like smoke, paint was chipped, and there wasn’t even toilet paper in the bathroom. There was a “No Refund” sign at the office- I understood why. I got a blanket and pillow out of my car and slept on top of the bed. Next to me was a kitchen knife. I have had no desire to stay in anything but a tent since.

I woke up at a little before 4am and immediately was excited for the Buckeye Trail 50k. So what if I was across the country- most of my east coast running family was all there. I started texting Rachel about the race and for constant updates. I tried to go back to sleep but no luck, I wanted to get the hell out of the motel anyway. I ate a quick breakfast then headed to Boulder to go running.

As an ultra runner, I was curious to see why so many of the “great” ultra runners choose that as a place to live. It is a very lovely place and is alive with energy. The town has street performers (from mind readers to musicians) and tons of great window shopping. The main spot for trails is less than 5 minutes from the center of town. I was in Boulder a few days before I started TFA and enjoyed it, the trails were beautiful, but waaaaayyy to crowded for my liking. Wanting to see if there were any more low key places I actually emailed Anton and he was nice enough to let me know about the trails. He said if I got there early enough it wasn’t as bad, to definitely try Green Mountain,  and about a few other places a bit farther of a drive.  I have to admit running Green Mountain has been my favorite run in CO. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The area is full of life, colorful flowers, and breath taking views. Yet, I still saw way more people than I am used to when trail running. I’m glad all the people were out there running or hiking, but I missed getting lost in the scenery and going for long amounts of time without seeing another person.  It was still enjoyable, but it wasn’t my normal trail running “mediation/therapy” session. There are some other really great trails off of Canyon and Magnolia road, but the trails weren’t long enough for a really solid long run. With that said, I’m sure there are still tons of places I did not explore so I’m not exactly sure what my opinion of Boulder actually is.

Boulder was also my first night of camping. I always seem to have a hard time actually enjoying my first night of camping because it’s an adjustment to sleeping indoors. This was no exception. I didn’t know where to camp, if I could actually put up a tent by myself, I’m really scared of being alone in the dark (I don’t like not being able to see what is around me), and it was hailing when I was trying to decide what to do. After some pointless driving, a really bad nosebleed, a sad phone call, and some frustration tears shed, I camped off Magnolia Rd. (A long, steep, winding road and driving up it may qualify for car abuse) I lucked out and camped not too far from a family (easing my fears of being alone) and I set up my tent at the exact time it started to rain.

Sandi Nypaver, Mountain Climber:

One thing I knew I HAD to do in Colorado was climb a 14er. I didn’t know where to start or where to go. I put Leadville in my GPS and hoped that by getting farther in the mountains that I would I could just find a place to stop and ask, which is exactly what I did.  I stopped at a forest ranger station and two of the rangers all too happily explained everything to me in unnecessary detail. It was decided I’d start with Grays and Torreys (two 14er summits that could easily be done in one day). This was my first test of using a map because my gps can’t find mountain trail heads. Much to my surprise, I headed in right direction and found where to go without any problems. Up another long Colorado winding and rocky road I went. After saying sorry to my car a 100 times I got to the trail head and texted Rachel where I was. Of course, no service. I felt awful-  I hadn’t texted anyone in awhile and I knew I would be causing worry. But it was getting late and there was no way I was going back down the hill.

Too make this a little shorter, I woke up early the next morning to the trail head being filled with people. Within 2 hrs I got o Grays Peak and less than 40 minutes later I was at the top of Torreys. As expected, the views were spectacular. Yet, I was disappointed it only took a less than 3 hrs to get to the top of both peaks. I don’t want to say it was easy, hiking up for hours will always leave you breathing hard, but I wanted more of a challenge. Thus, I began my “I am a mountain climber” 4 day period.  I headed to Buena Vista and climbed 3 of the collegiate peaks. I started with Mt. Yale, thought it still didn’t take me long enough, and then went for Mt. Harvard and Columbia (both can be done in the same day) and I had finally met my match! Mt. Harvard wasn’t bad; I got to the top within a few hours and then debated Mt. Columbia. Being type A, I of course could not pass the chance to do another summit. I knew from talking to people there wasn’t exactly a trail to Mt. Columbia, but I knew it was possible. I thought I could just follow the ridge line between the mountains and it wouldn’t be too bad, boy was I wrong. There are a few karens to get you started but after that it’s a bit of a guessing game and looking at the snow to see if there footprints. Right off the back I started boulder hopping. It was a little scary but mostly fun. Then I saw a karen that led me to a steep downhill. I didn’t realize how steep and long it was until I had been sliding down it for ten minutes with still a long way to go. I slid for 45 minutes, praying I could catch something to slow down on the way, and caused a few rock slides. I’m still not sure this was the right place to go but there were foot prints when I reached the snow.  For another hour I boulder hopped on unstable rocks and slid through snow that I knew could very possible give and have me falling down into the rocks beneath it. I know no one else was going to be on the trail that day and was all too aware that if I got hurt no one would find me until the next day or longer. I knew I had to stay smart, and I had to stay positive.

From there, it was another hour of going back uphill. This was the steepest climb I had. I climbed up using my hands the entire time. I even had to stop and catch my breath a few times. I would have liked to have taken a longer rest but the clouds were getting really dark. It’s storm season in the mountains and your suppose to summit by noon. I finally reached the summit a little before one and was met by (I think) a marmot. It was great to have made it, but I heard thunder and it lightly hailed for a minute. I knew there was a trail down Mt. Columbia to get me back to my car but as I looked around I couldn’t find it. I started to worry and said a quick prayer to find my way. The marmot caught my eye and he walked about 20 feet to my left. Not knowing what else to do I followed. When I got close, the marmot again started moving and I followed. Five minutes of this and the marmot stopped, right where the trail started. I can’t prove this was my prayer being answered but this trip has certainly made me trust God more than I ever had before. Every time I have said a prayer when I got scared of where to sleep or where to go it has somehow been answered. At times I have gotten lonely, but I have never felt truly alone on this trip. For me, this little experience showed me that I’m not alone.

(Side note: There are ups and downs to climbing alone. Here of course it was scary being alone on such technical terrain. I’m sure it is also very special to share the experience of reaching the summit with others. However, I really appreciated being able to go at my own pace- pushing myself when I felt good and taking it easy when I wanted. I also love the mental challenge of pushing myself through it and developing that mind body relationship. Same goes for ultras)

I was grateful to find the trail, but I found out that it was again another mile of sliding down hill. For parts I could slide sideways standing up but after falling a dozen times I opted for the crouching position. It probably would have been way more of a blast if I wouldn’t have known that if I got hurt being alone that I would have been screwed. I got back down to the trees. Out loud I professed my love to the trees, telling them how much I missed them. Walking the next few miles to my car I knew it was time to stop my mountain climbing for awhile. I really missed running… it was time to get my speed and running confidence back.

I spent one more night in Buena Vista, a great little town, and so far my favorite little town in Colorado. Many towns are a little too “touristy” and there are plenty of tourists who come, but you still get that small town feel that I haven’t found in any other places in CO. There are also plenty of places to camp (free of course) and places to do laundry, check email, and shower. After running the CO trail (not very easy to do with an hour of uphill until you reach over 10,000ft) I headed out. I thought I knew where I was headed and then kept changing my mind with a “something isn’t right” feeling.  I ended up in Utah that night finding a place to camp just in time on a pretty lake. I was supposed to pay a fee but I just wanted to sleep there unlike everyone else who obviously were spending the weekend, so I didn’t pay. (This may sound bad, but I have gotten quite good at this. If you come late and leave early no one is there too notice if you paid or not. Most of the places you pay its more expected that you are staying for awhile- since I don’t and am on a budget- I honestly feel no guilt for not paying. It’s nature anyway- should be free.)

I have to admit, I kind of knew why I felt bad driving west when I started. I was driving farther away from Ohio. It’s not that I had any plans to stay in Ohio (this is my time in life to try out new places), but this weekend is Burning River 100 and Rachel is running it along with plenty of other people who have supported me along my journey. I really wanted to be there to show my support and see the people I have been missing. I talked to Rachel the next morning crying from a rest stop because I didn’t know what to do. I really wanted to go run in Cali, but I really wanted to see the people I missed. It’s not in my budget or time frame to go back to Ohio and visit or Cali. Of course, Rachel told me it was okay I wasn’t going to be at BR100 and to continue my adventure. I went on my way to Cali, not feeling quite right. I don’t want to say I regret this decision because I definitely learned that seeing and supporting loved ones is more important than pretty scenery, but I do wish I was going to be in Ohio this weekend. I got to see the redwood forest which I wanted to see for a long time, but it wasn’t the experience I had hoped for. I also spent 2 days driving in Cali, not really sure where I was going. It took until this morning for me to truly appreciate the experience and except that I made a “mistake” and it was okay, I’m only human.

So that’s the “quick” summary of my adventure thus far. It has continued my experience of jammed pack learning in a very short amount of time. As I stated at the beginning, I have not once regretted my decision and it’s obvious to me as to why. I have felt more myself these past two weeks then I have since I was a little kid. I have always had this side to me of just wanting to go and explore and I feel like that part of me is finally being fed. I have felt more at home and alive in nature then I have ever felt living in Parma. No offense to Parma, but this experience in nature has given me the chance to make things right within myself.

A little self reflection:

There have been so many moments where I felt so at peace with myself. This often comes from me trail running, but never lasts long after I stop running. To be honest and open, my mind has worked like this for half of my life: Negative thoughts come into my head and then I fight and fight and fight with my own mind to make my thoughts become positive. I usually win, especially since I have started running, but it is still quite mentally exhausting and it’s never a good thing when I lose the battle against myself.  There have been plenty of days within the past two weeks where I haven’t had this problem. It’s such a wonderful experience. I’m finally learning how to become my own best friend when I need it. Meaning when a problem comes, instead of beating myself up I can actually process what’s going on and how to help myself whether it be talking to someone else or being able to look at the situation and give myself advice and support that I normally only had for others.

The time outdoors has also allowed me to reflect on my own traits. For instance I know I am tough (that’s obvious through ultra running) but I have finally been able to appreciate that as tough as I am, I am also an extremely emotional person. I always thought this as a good thing when it came to trying to help/ guide others, but when it came to myself and my personal feelings I always despised this part of me. In response to the feelings I didn’t want to deal with, I would mentally shut down and spend my time alone or pretty much being a ghost of a person to the people I was with. I didn’t know how to respond to myself. This problem isn’t fixed but it’s been much better. I have just let myself just feel whatever emotion I have (good and bad) and then let myself think about it and adjust. If I need to cry because I am mad at myself for something, hurt because a certain family member has barely talked to me (only about school loans), or I am feeling unwanted from a recent heart ache, I just let myself do it. I take it all in. Then I remember that this is the most support I have probably ever had in my life. I have these words from Star Blackford posted in my car:

 "You are a strong, intelligent, talented and determined young woman - I have faith in you, I believe in you, and even in the darkest nights of your soul, you are never alone. You are loved, supported, and even understood."

I can then start to believe these things about myself (something I could never do before) and take care of my emotions till I once again feel at peace. This process is still a little unnatural, but I realize how positive it is for me. It’s allowing me to love myself more, as well as learn lessons that will not only allow me to help myself but also all of the people around me. It’s helping me to experience a peace and happiness within myself. I must admit, however, I am extremely scared that this won’t last once this little adventure ends. Yet I am thoroughly determined to set my life up so this process can continue.

To end this already:

I am currently in Truckee, California ready to explore the Pacific crest, Tahoe Rim, and Western States trails. It’s a nice change from running at 10,000 in Buena Vista and I’m loving all the trees. The one thing better about CO is that mosquitoes were not a problem. I am getting eaten alive out here! I have a great job lead in CO but I’m not sure what I think about it. It’s absolutely gorgeous out west, but I think that the mountains out east are just as pretty. I still think the most fun I have ever had running has been in Virginia. The Western States (CA) and Promise Land (VA) courses are tied for the prettiest courses I have ran. Virginia, however, is quite a bit cheaper. I must admit living in the North Carolina Mountains has crossed my head plenty of times (if you know a bit about me you will know I enjoy warm weather which is why I said NC). I have no idea where I will actually end up yet. I’m worried, bu I’m alive, I’m learning, I’m growing. I’m excited to see where my life will take me.

Really this is it:
Words cannot express how much all the support I have gotten means to me. You are constantly with me on this journey and I hope my pictures and Facebook and my blogs help you feel part of my adventure. I miss everyone so much it can be a bit painful at times, but thank for understanding this is what I need to do right now.
Good luck to everyone running BR100 this weekend- I rrrreeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaalllllllyyyyyy wish I would have made the decision to go, but know I will be there in spirit.

Sending my sincerest love,



  1. great blog post, sandi! I'm so happy for you and your "rite of passage" into adulthood you are on. It's so wonderful you are able to take this journey. Imagine if everyone was brave enough to set out to "find themselves" and experience new things and step outside their comfort zone?? I think the world would be filled with much more confident/kinder humans. I think You def should look into moving to southwest VA or asheville or boone NC. There are some thriving "tribes" of ultrarunners in these areas, so you'd have friends to run with when you want to, but also, you will have TONS of solitude in the appalachian mtns. :o)

  2. Sandi- Cool to see you posting, and with adventures! I linked to your blog in my WS race report ( Nice to meet you and do some snow running, Midwest-style.

    Best of luck on your adventures! If you're still in the CA area and need some humanity, look up Jacob: He lives in Roseville, CA (near Auburn) and he/his wife are wonderful people that embody the same "ultra spirit" as you. Also, let us know if might make it up to Oregon! -J

  3. The image with you in a striped shirt and the mountains behind you is majestic. I used your image to show someone what I meant about smile and laughter lines.

    Thank you, was perfect. Hope you have many more adventures :)


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