Saturday, September 24, 2011

Not perfect, just happy

Endurance - it’s more than just competing in distance races - it is more than simply running. Its the lifestyle of never looking for the easy way out. It’s finding opportunities whatever the situation. It is a freedom, if you have the courage to seize that freedom. It’s an exploration towards the edge. For each of this ‘edge’ will be in a different place. And that place will be constantly changing. It is the journey to find that edge which maybe teaches us more about ourselves. Lizzy Hawker

Rach told me this quote and I had to add it: "It is also inspiring to come to the knowledge that you need nothing. Having nothing that ties you makes you so free. The more you know, the less you need, as the aboriginees say." "...I am identified by myself."-S. Browne

                As usual I wrote this as blog and it turned out to be more of a journal entry. I was about to take a lot out of it but then I got the okay to leave some things in. Plus, if it wasn’t for everyone’s support I don’t know if I would be here so this is my way of letting you share my adventure.
I believe I left off my last blog on my little adventure in California….
After leaving Truckee I headed to the small town of Foresthill, Ca for the sole purpose of running some of the WS100 course.  Since I walked most of the course the last time, I felt the need to run it.
                After my GPS took me up a ridiculous canyon road that I could have easily of drove off, I made it to Foreshill, Ca.  I didn’t realize this when I ran through it at WS100 (This was the point where pacers were allowed to pick up runners) but there are historical markings everywhere for the race. There are actual road signs telling you where the WS trail is! I’ve never seen such evidence of ultras in a town. I even had the trails completely to myself…even the whole canyon. I think my running confidence got a little needed boost when I did an out and back in the canyon, completely running the inclines this time around.

                One downside to camping in Foresthill was that there were no showers. Getting clean consisted of sponge bathing in a sink or jumping in the lake. Shaving my legs consisted of a razor and a glass full of water. (I refused to have hairy legs no matter how much I was roughing it lol)
                The other downside to camping alone in Foresthill is that there are bears. I’m from Ohio, the scariest animals we have on the trails are coyotes and they’re terrified of people. As I said in my previous blog I am scared of the dark because I can’t see what’s in it, so naturally every night in my tent I am already freaking out that a bear is going to come get me. So I’m in this little random campground that no one else is in and I attempt to fall asleep in my tent. Then my nighttime fear comes to life. I hear stepping and heavy breathing all around my tent that could only come from a bear. I’m of course terrified and afraid to move a muscle. I pray the bear goes away. A car drives past and I hear the bear run into the forest. Relief, but I can hear it panting. Without thinking I quietly get my phone to text Rachel. It’s of course much later in Ohio but I know I can count on her to answer me back when I need it most. She of course texts me back terrified as well. At this point the bear comes back to my tent for what seems an eternity (probably 10-15 minutes). Then, amazingly, my prayers are answered. It was around 12am but randomly a car pulls in the campground, the bear runs away, and a young couple decides to camp right next to me. It was obvious the campground was barely used (but it was the only free campground anywhere close) and I couldn’t believe my luck. I texted Rachel back not to worry and all the adrenaline leaving me allowed me to fall into a nice sleep as I heard the couple talking and building a fire (I’m quite sure the fire danger was high at this point and it was illegal to build a fire lol). Unfortunately, the area ate up my cell life in record time. Of course, Rachel being the good sister she is sent me messages asking if I was okay and when there was no reply she got really worried and almost called the forest ranger. SORRY RACHEL!

                From Foresthill I went to the Auburn to check out the town and go to a coffee shop where I could follow the Burning River 100 runners/ my twin.  This plan somewhat failed because like most ultras updates seem to stop after the first 50k of the race. Thank goodness for Rachel’s boyfriend Steve who kept me updated throughout the race. I don’t think I have ever been so thankful for another person in Rachel’s life. Over the past couple of years I have let myself realize that Rachel will always be the person who knows me best and there will never be a person I could love more, no matter who comes in and out of my life. I couldn’t help be a little bit of a mess that day when I should have been there for Rachel, cheering her on at every place I could. Thankfully, Steve was/is there to take his place and my place, something I will always be grateful for. I couldn’t have been more proud of her for how she ran at BR100. 2nd female, not far behind Connie Gardner, an elite and very experience ultra runner.  Being the sap that I am, I couldn’t help but get a little emotional talking to her on the phone seconds after she crossed the finish line.

            After another night of finding a random camping spot I headed toward Lake Tahoe. The first place I ended up at was the south end and I instantly got overwhelmed. This is possibly because it was early Sunday afternoon and many vacationers were leaving. After spending so much time in quiet small towns, it’s a hard adjustment to be stuck in traffic surrounded by people. I didn’t do much more than drive down the main street and then started north. On my way I stopped by the park office and got a map and list of camping places. I ended up camping at a nice little free campground a little ways up a mountain road on the west shore, the calmest part of the lake since it’s not flooded with tourist shops and activities. I didn’t have plans at being in one spot for too long, but I ended up spending a full week.

                The mornings and nights are way too chilly for my liking, but I couldn’t help but love it during the day. I love forests and mountains, but I also love being by water. My mornings were spent running and hiking, my afternoons were spent reading at the beach (getting a bad sun burn) and even paddle boarding, and my nights were spent rollerblading or walking. The water in the lake was so clear and pure, I could see easily see the bottom even when I was far out in the lake paddle boarding. Since much of the water came from the mountains, it was also freezing!  Barely any body was swimming. Then I saw some little kids dive right in. But… “I don’t mix well with cold… but the water would clean me off a bit… It’s too cold!...I didn’t care how cold water was when I was a kid…I’m going!” And then I went for it. I dove in, letting the cold wrap around me, embracing my inner child. I felt like every part of my body was awake and I felt a huge smile come on my face. I felt so alive. I swam a little bit more then climbed out and laid on my towel, letting the sun warm my skin. I did this almost every day I was there and I would feel refreshed every time. It also helped me keep clean along with my sink sponge baths!

                The whole week I didn’t put on an ounce of makeup, I cleaned up by jumping in a lake, and I probably never felt prettier. Little by little I could feel myself becoming a little bit happier this whole trip and it must have showed because I have never got hit on so much in my life. At first I was a little annoyed, but then I was just a little bit flattered. I guess it goes to show that a smile is a person’s best asset and that even if  you’re by yourself you should still smile. However, the last thing I wanted to do was start something.  My heart (thankfully) wasn’t ready for it.
                Lake Tahoe also made me learn something very important about myself: If I’m ever in danger I’m completely worthless. Ha!  I’ll explain. So up (and I really do mean up) the road from my campground was the Tahoe Rim Trail/ Pacific Crest Trail (they run into each other here) and I attempted to run it but after 10 minutes the snow makes it impossible. I of course keep trying anyway before I give up and then as usual I get lost. Thankfully however I make it to the mountain road not too far from the trail head. To get in some more miles I just run the dirt road till any sign of a road stops. I turn around and head back towards my car. I’m running, I’m running, I’m running and then all of a sudden I hear a noise from the bushes and then a bear pops out of nowhere literally 15 feet in front of me!  The bear just runs from one side of the road to the other. It was like Animal Planet live. During this time my heart just about stops and not a single thought of self defense runs through my head. All I feel is fear with not one thought going through my head. No, I didn’t think of the things I was supposed to do if I saw a bear, I didn’t have my life flash through my eyes, there was nothing but shock. Since the bear was so close, even if I had had some thought of what to do it probably wouldn’t have done me any good, but it would have been nice to know that I had some type of instinctive self-defense.  Ah well…
           I also got a parking ticket in Lake Tahoe. The day before I got it I talked to this really nice-country coach who was telling me about trails I could run that were used for x-county skiing in the 1960? olympics. He told me where I could park too which is how I got the ticket. Helpful advice gone wrong. I was of course on a budget and paying for a parking ticket was not in my plan. Thus, I wrote a nice letter explaining the situation on a Snoopy thank you card. The ticket got dismissed. =)
                During this whole little adventure I was of course trying to find a job and when I was in Tahoe I got offered the position to be the Program Coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of Buena Vista, Co.  The job is through AmeriCorps  (it’s kind of like the Peace Corps but in the US). I also got asked to interview for a part time position to be the Youth Development Specialist at the Boys and Girls Club of Auburn, Ca. I didn’t like that it was part time, but I knew that Auburn Running Company was a minute’s walk away. As soon as I finished the interview I knew I was in trouble. It went well, way too well. Over the summer I have been little surprised by myself. How confident (for me anyways) I had been in front of the interviewer, whose purpose is to judge whether or not I am good enough to work at the organization.  I’m normally a wreck just being around new people, not wanting to say the wrong thing, and I was only worse for interviews. I think one of the many good things that did come from Teach For America is that it gave me a confidence boost. It was rated as the 7th hardest interview in America, and I believe it. While this was part of my new interview confidence, I think the lessons I learned over the summer and the experiences I had have brought out the best in me. Being able to appreciate myself has helped me to finally breathe a little bit better around new people.
                So I got offered the job. I now had a choice to make. I will always loathe making hard choices and I felt like I made enough this year. I’m terrible indecisive and sometimes thinking about my options only makes it worse. Buena Vista is a small town surrounded by the mountains (the collegiate peaks). There is one traffic light, the only chain restaurant is Subway, there are dogs everywhere, and the night sky is filled with the most stars I have ever seen.  The stars, clouds, and moon also seem/ are a lot closer living at 8000 feet. Running is tough here. Auburn, however, is known as the endurance capital and I could run the western states trails whenever my heart desires. For those of you by the CNVP in Ohio, it’s a bit like Hudson but bigger, a little more “worn”, and has a lot more traffic.  The American River is right there and after my runs during my stay I could run right in the river still in my running clothes! I loved that. I felt like such a little kid. I wasn’t used to the heat during my first run in Auburn and running into the river cooled me down instantly. I haven’t jumped in the water with my clothes on in probably over 16 years. It’s also a lot easier to run there since the elevation is a couple hundred feet, but it’s only a 2 hour drive to Tahoe if I wanted elevation training. I’d also get paid almost at much working part time in Auburn as I would full time in Buena Vista. That’s the thing about Americorps, joining it means that I’m fully accepting to live below the poverty level and volunteering my year to help kids in America; it’s not so I can use my college degree to make money. The money I get is called a living allowance and if I complete the year I get money towards loans or graduate school. With this being said, I felt like the logical choice would be Auburn.  Yet I knew my mind wasn’t ready to fend for itself in a busy little city with traffic every which way and chain stores all around. I still needed simplicity, a place where fresh air is abundant, and my mind could feel calm by just looking at all the open space. I also wanted the experience of being fully contempt with what little I may have. I camped most of the summer, my life fitting in my car, and the only thing I ever missed was people (and sometimes a free shower). I know I don’t need much to be happy. So here I am now, writing you from a little local coffee shop in Buena Vista, Co.
                I should mention that this decision was made in Ohio. After being alone for months (and plane tickets suddenly dropping), I was ready to find a little more stability. At least for a year anyway since Americorps is only a year program. I have a new appreciation for knowing local trails by heart. I needed a way to put my journey to rest for now, and I needed to see the people I loved. I mentioned this to my dad and right away he offered to help. I think he learned some things as well. When Rachel and I declared ourselves social science majors he continuously tried to talk us into getting into a major that promised more money. I think some parents fall into the trap of “I want my kids to have more than I have”, not realizing that kids don’t need the tools to make money, they need the tools how to be happy, love themselves, and care for others. I think my dad has accepted I’m happier having less right now because I have so much more love for life, myself, and others. (On a side note (Adjust this to your life/kids): If you’re a football loving dad and your little girl OR boy loves ballet, you better show up to your kid’s recitals like you have a front row ticket to seeing your favorite team in the championship. This is important, this will mean a great deal to your kid(s) as they become adults.)
                So I went home for a week. Just because I felt like changed a little bit, I realized I couldn’t expect too much from this much needed trip. My sisters, my dad, and my mom still had to work.  No one in my blood related family would be able to pick me up from the airport, but that was okay, I still got my much needed welcome back hug from Mrs. Pope. I felt bruised after telling my mom I was coming back for a week and getting no response. But, Mrs. Pope, a blessing in my life who lovingly checks to see how I am doing, was more than thrilled to see me. She was secretly hoping I’d visit for weeks. She was there waiting for me at the airport, a huge smile on her face, and arms open wide. I was more than happy to see her as she has turned from my boyfriend’s mom to part of my family. We talked in the car, we talked at her kitchen table, we talked on the patio, and we talked over a bottle of wine, and we talked as we took the dogs for a walk. As corny as it sounds, I cherished every moment.
                I will admit the biggest reason I can back to Ohio was because I missed Rach. I felt guilty I came back to Ohio too late. I did look up plane tickets the weekend on BR100 but they were incredibly expensive and for reasons unknown to me, the cost of a plane ticket went way down 2 weeks later.  God, it was great to see her. We went to Hinckley to go paddle boating and our similarities instantly came out. We naturally paddle as hard as we can and the boat still goes turtle speed. One of the workers even comments on our speedy pace. After we have some steering problems, we give in to the slow speed and spend the time talking about our lives and how much happier we have both become in the past year.
Rach when we went paddle boating in Hinckley.
                               One of the harder things I finally had to deal with on my trip was my relationship with a family member. She grew up with different priorities and goals then I did, I realize that. She calls herself the “voice of reason.” I cannot help that while I try to be reasonable; I’m a “dreamer” by nature. I can’t help but day dream about things I want to do and accomplish and then try to go after whatever runs through my head. Taking this away from me would be like blowing out a flame. My light would be gone. Thus much of what I do is not understandable to her. I felt like there was something wrong with me for years because of her reactions to me that I won’t get into except for one. While I was in Ohio she told me I thought I made bad choices recently. This was my test. Could I prevail and not let myself fall into old habits?  I was hurt, I had to accept that there was no getting around that. In a way I understood.  I resigned from a job that is extremely hard to get and that would pay me much more than I am going to make now to load up my car, live my dream of taking off and exploring for a month, and living a very humble life style for now. But if she would actually have tried to talk to me about my life, she would have seen how much more at peace I am with myself. How much happier I am.  Isn’t that what everyone wants for their loved ones? To be happy? To find peace within themselves? After letting myself take in the hurt for a bit, I turned to the ones who were happy for me now. When she is ready to love me for who I am, I’ll be here waiting with love.
                I loved my time in Ohio. I spent my last day with my family and was thankful for the time with them. Part of me wanted to stay, but I knew in my heart it was time to head back to Colorado to help the Animal Camp at Leadville 100. The great thing about the Animal Camp is that they are some bad ass tough runners, but they also are some of the nicest guys I have ever met. It was an honor to run with John for a bit. I think we both got a lot of inspiration the next day when we were lucky enough to help bring in the last of the runners who toughed it out for almost 30 hours or more.
The Animal Camp: Leadville 100
Creepy Santa at the Delaware Hotel in Leadville. Don't touch him! He's bad luck. lol

From Leadville I went to back to Buena Vista to find a place to live and wait till Americorps training. First day running trails there I saw another bear. A woman told me she has been running there for 15 years and never saw a bear. Figures... lol. It wouldn't move off the trail so I added to hours to my run to avoid it.

I told Shaun the other day that I wish I could have felt at home in Ohio. Maybe that wasn’t exactly the right wording because I felt at home on the trails and in the people there. Yet, at this time in my life, it wasn’t enough space, not enough nature. After running all over the West Coast I still absolutely adore the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Mohican State Park. I love the steep short hills that spike my heart rate, the flats that take my mind far away, and the fields of overgrown flowers and plants that have an intoxicating sweet smell. But, I feel bad admitting this, it wasn’t enough for me. I’d get done running and return to busy streets and a hectic life that my mind couldn’t keep up with. I need mountains surrounding me so I can get done with running and still be in a place where my mind can remain relatively calm.
                The main reason I said what I did though wasn’t because of the trails in Ohio, it was because everyone I love is there. I wish I could have felt at peace there so I could be with my family and friends. My dad’s birthday and my cousin’s baby’s christening was today. My family gathers to celebrate and I’m on the other side of the county. My sister’s got to go out to dinner with my Dad for his birthday, I had to settle by calling him. I can’t help but feel guilty that I’m not there, that my mind couldn’t be happy enough being so close to their love in Ohio. It also makes me lonely. My job hasn’t started yet and I spend just about all of my time alone. It hasn’t been easy trying to start a new life out here by myself. I’m learning how to do things as I go. It’s an adventure, but it’s scary and often lonely. I try to take away some of the guilt by reminding myself that in this time so far I am becoming a better sister, daughter, and friend.

I stopped there and now this is me finishing up 2 weeks later.

                Starting my new job/ life the past week was at first a little scary. After my last experience I guess it was only natural for me to worry, however, there was no need to this time. I loved Americorps/ Boys and Girls Club training. In TFA there were almost 300 people and in a crowd that big I feel lost because I never know where to fit in. This time there was only 25 of us and I felt much more at ease. Most importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed training…. it felt “right”. One of the days I got so site shadow a club in Denver and I felt right at home spending time with the kids. In the 3 hours I was with them I actually got to know them a bit and had some quality conversations. It’s what I felt I was missing in TFA, so it seems that all this summer’s hard decision making was well worth it. Also, when I first came to Colorado I had a tough time feeling like myself running. I loved running here because of the challenge, but I wasn’t necessarily having fun. The last two weeks I’ve been having the time of my life trail running and I’m even surprised about how good running uphill feels. It’s crazy how things happen. So many times I don’t understand why things happen at first and then a little bit later it’s like all these little pieces fit together in a beautiful picture (even if at first the pieces were a pain in the ass to fit or find). 
Fell running down Green Mountain in Boulder. Don't day dream when there are

                So I guess that brings an end to my summer adventure and it’s time to make way for a new adventure to start:  I had my first week of “service” at the B&GC in BV and I really enjoyed it. Yesterday I can home in yarn and beaded necklaces, bracelets, and rings made by 7-11 year olds so I must be doing something right. I feel like this is the part where I should say something insightful summarizing my summer but honestly I’m sure what I have to say has already been said before. But for the sake of an ending: Don’t ever give up on happiness, love, passion….yourself. Everyone knows that life isn’t easy, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean that you can’t find happiness and love (not in a significant other sense but in life). Now, when I think back to all the unpleasant experiences I’ve had in my life I have to admit to myself that I’m grateful for them. Because of those experiences I’ve gained so much wisdom, I’ve learned how to empathize and understand all different kinds of people, that my purpose in life is to try and make what difference I can in the world, how to overcome the mental challenges in an ultra, how to love deeper, how to follow my heart a little better, etc,.etc., etc… and to finally appreciate who I am. I may have not handled all the bad experience very gracefully at first, but I’m human, that’s okay, all that matters is that I’m better off now. Lastly, everyone has their own path that is meant for them. Not everyone is meant to do what I did this summer. Follow your own heart, take the good advice and support, and understand that it’s okay if not everyone supports you. If you ever take your own “leap” realize it’s okay if at times you feel like you’re falling. It just means you had a high arch on your jump so have to come down a little bit to land on the other side. =)
Home sweet home <3

                Thanks for taking this adventure with me.
                                                                Lots of love,
(P.S. When I first came out here I felt like I would never run fast again…. I won my first marathon yesterday. New things can be reeeaallly hard at first…keep going…. It gets easier because you get stronger)