Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When life gives you lemons...

Well, I've found myself in an interesting situation. Last year when Brian and I stayed in Alaska for the holidays we said we would never do it again. As much as I hate the shopping and the music and the crowds and the stress and the whole consumer aspect of Christmas, there are many things about Christmas that I love. And I find myself here in Anchorage, missing those things.

I like the tape of Nat King Cole that my mom has been playing while decorating the tree every year since I was born. I like the party my aunt Pammy throws on Christmas Eve, which is the only night of the year that I get to see most of my extended family. I like that my Aunt Carol makes mimosas on Christmas while we open our presents at Nana's. I like going to my best friend Kate's parents house late night on Christmas Eve to have a few beers and hang out with friends that I never get to see. I like the cookies. I like the wine. I like the tradition.

But alas, I am here in Anchorage. Alone. I can't even bake cookies because my oven is broken. It's dark. Sounds depressing right? Not really. I talked to my friend Kate on the phone today and she reassured me that if anyone would take this situation and have fun with it would be me. So I'm trying to do that. I have three days off to do whatever I want. That never happens.

I mean, I have weekends off all the time, but it always seems like in between climbing and spending time in the mountains, there is a mad rush around to do all my chores and run errands. I'm already packed for my trip and I have three unexpected days with no real responsibility and it's kinda nice.

Last night I stayed up until 3am watching movies and reading books. Today I started my day off by sleeping in until 10:30. When I finally rolled out of bed I took the dogs for a long walk in the morning and then made a giant breakfast burrito and a cup of coffee.

I packed up a bag with lunch and hot tea, bundled up in my warmest layers, and took Brian's snow bike out for a ride on the coastal flats around 1. It was about 5 degrees and clear. It's been so cold lately that the city is covered in white frost, plus there is fresh blanket of snow covering everything. I had a slight mishap (I'm and idiot) while riding and ended up having to walk the bike back to the house, but I was just glad to be out in the sun with no responsibilities to come home to.

For dinner I made myself a big pot of clam chowder with crusty bread and salad. I'm about to pour myself a glass of wine and get in the hot tub. I'd say it's not such a bad Christmas Eve after all...

Merry Christmas to everyone! And if you are spending time with your family this Christmas, don't take it for granted!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Yesterday I spent 7 hours on the phone and online trying to reschedule my flight. My flight down to Seattle was delayed. If I got on that plane I would have missed my connecting flight to Philadelphia. I tried to reschedule the flight to Pennsylvania, but there was not one seat on one flight from Seattle to anywhere on the East Coast until Saturday. Saturday.

So I didn't go and tried to reschedule my flight out of Anchorage online. Nothing until Saturday. I even tried to get to Chicago and then was fully prepared to take the train to Philadelphia. No go, couldn't get to Chicago either. Or anywhere for that matter. Every flight out of Alaska was booked.

Every time I found a flight that I wanted, by the time I clicked on it, it was gone. The flights kept moving farther and farther away in the week and getting more and more expensive. I found flights online through continental and then called them to see if I could reschedule the first part of my flight, but they would not let me. The earliest I could arrive was Sunday.

I got so frustrated that they wouldn't put me on flights that obviously had seats on them that I asked them to give me a full refund. I would book the flight myself online and get something before Christmas.

After 7 hours online and on the phone, I ended up settling on a flight on Friday. It leaves in the morning and I will arrive in Newark, NJ at 10:30 pm.

Before Brian left Monday morning on his flight he was considering canceling for fear of leaving me here alone on Christmas. But as of Monday morning everything looked fine. My flight appeared to be on time and there were no delays in and out of Seattle.

Now I find myself here in Anchorage with three days off from work before I leave and am realizing that it's not that bad. I have a few days to relax and play. Suddenly I am here at home with no responsibility and it's kind of nice.

Monday, December 22, 2008

We made it!

Whew! We made it past the solstice. Not that there was any doubt that we wouldn't. But ya never know. Last night was the longest night of the year. Yesterday Brian and I headed out for a "short" ride up near Hatcher's Pass with a bunch of his riding buddies.

Long story short, I ended up having to turn back pretty early in the ride, because of my lack of winter vehicle. On the uphill I had to push the whole way and on the downhill my skinny 2.3 inch tires were digging into the snow and tossing me every time I had to brake. There is no doubt that I could have finished the ride, but the guys would not have been happy with me trailing farther behind than I usually do.

Brian talked me out of buying a Pugsley earlier in the season. Well, for one, I really can't afford it right now, because I have to support my very expensive climbing habit. But also, he was convinced it was not needed. But for a ride like this it definitely would have been welcome.

The guys continued on, while I rode back and drove the car back down to Houston (Houston, Alaska that is) and waited. They ended up having a great 5 hour ride, for which I am jealous, but it was just not my day.

I've decided to start a Pugsley fund. I may not have the full amount to buy one until next season, but that's fine, I have enough to do this winter.

I leave for Philadelphia tonight and will be arriving in Allentown, PA by midnight tomorrow night. I am so excited to see my family and friends this time around. Some of them I haven't seen in over a year so it will be a treat. A little bit of direct sunlight can't hurt either.

Oh and thanks Manny for the photo...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Powder - A cure for crazy

I was reluctant to go with Brian down to Turnagain Pass today to meet up with his new ski buddies. I have just been in such a bad mood lately that I didn't think it would be a great introduction. But I really needed to get out(and so did Niko) for a full day in the sun so I went.

It was my first day out skiing in the backcountry this year, so my skinning technique was a little rusty to say the least. Brian and I decided to tell the guys to go ahead on the ascent, and we would hang back and have a mellow day.

My day got worse and worse as the hill got steeper and my skins kept slipping. I fell numerous times despite Brian's attempts to coach me, it just seemed to be getting worse. I looked out at the view and could not enjoy it. Great. A bunch of really beautiful mountains covered in snow. Whatever.

My mood was degenerating as we neared the top where we would take off our skins and ski down. I just could not turn my attitude around. What the hell? Why couldn't I just suck it up and have fun?

We had some sandwiches, took our skins off and I watched Brian start down the slope of creamy white snow. Wow. The powder looked really nice. I pushed off and did one turn and my mood instantly turned around. It was smoothest untouched most beautiful champagne powder I have ever skied in. It was like floating on marshmallows. And I was happy.

Back at the car, tired and happy... who knew that is all it would take.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I love Fridays off

Here some pictures from my last Friday off, two weeks ago that I never posted.

Hillside Pillars!

Tomorrow I'm heading down to Candyland again. Dean says it's in big enough to protect so we are going to try to climb the whole thing tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Well, this is it. The last week before the solstice. We are down to 5 hours of daylight. The darkness has a choke hold on us now. Working 9 to 5 really sucks in the winter. I never see the sun.

This is the week that I start to go mad. I can't fall asleep at night and can't get out of bed in the morning. Yesterday I awoke (late) in a fit of rage. I yelled at the dogs and Brian and the kitchen table and anything that got in my way. What was wrong with me? I was going mad from lack of sunlight.

It was not a pretty sight. Brian tiptoed away from the bathroom door as I tried to dry my frizzy hair while screaming. He knew it was best to just leave me be.

I ordered an extra large coffee around 9:30 am hoping that somehow more caffeine would cure me of my madness. It didn't work. It just shot my nerves and made me more crazy.

Worked seemed pointless. Who cares about this crap when I feel like this.

I thought about the 5.11 that I attempted in the gym the night before and could not get off the ground. This seemed easier last week. Something has to be off. It must be the crazy streaming through my veins.

Sunday is the solstice. Monday night I fly into sunny Pennsylvania. Ahhh, sweet relief. By the time I get back we should be up to 6 hours of daylight. Only a few more days to bear.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two is not always better than one

I always thought that I wanted to have two dogs. Ya know, they would play with each other and wear each other out. They would snuggle together on the couch and keep themselves warm. We would all be so happy.

And that's how it was the first few days that I have been watching Laura's dog Aly while she spends some time back east. But sometime today when I left her and Niko alone things started to go sour.

Today I came home to Niko's snout all swollen and bleeding. There had been a serious fight here while I was at work, and Niko did not come out a winner this time. Her and Niko don't really have a good track record (Aly bit Niko on the nose at their first meeting), but I thought lately they were getting along.

I thought a nice run would burn off some of their energy, so I harnessed them up, tied them to my belt and took off. The first mile was a mess. A pulling, tangling, barking, yipping, spinning, hair flying, teeth growling mess. Once we got that all sorted out we had a nice run. But I can't imagine doing this every day. Instead of calming each other down, they get all riled up. What if they were children? Nope not ready for that yet.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I woke up at 7 am this morning to take Laura to the airport so that she could head back east for the holidays. I bundled up in my warmest dog walking gear and stepped outside to a biting cold, the kind that freezes the inside of your nose instantly. My warmest wool mittens were even failing me.

Upon returning from the airport I crawled back into bed under my down comforter and vowed never to leave. It was still pitch black at 8am and felt as if the sun would never rise.

But alas, it did, and then I remembered that I was suppose to be picking up Dean and Kim to head down to Candyland at 10. The cold and dark dampened my mood and I was not super enthused about the prospect of ice climbing. But I went anyway and it turned out to be a beautiful day. And frankly I have adapted so well to standing out in the cold in the past 3 and half years that zero degrees didn't even really feel that cold to me after the sun came up. My nose was a bit frigid but that was it.

Due to last weeks warm temps this climb has melted quite a bit, but it has formed up some in the past few days. It was thin conditions, but fun sticky climbing. We even had to do a few mixed climbing moves. I discovered today that I love climbing thin conditions. The climb was steppy, so I could get good foot holds and than tool around until I found something to hook. Sometimes it was ice. Sometimes it was hard snow. Sometimes it was rock. Sometimes there was nothing there and I just had to use my knees to get up over a ledge. I know, bad form.

Since the ice was too thin too protect (I'm sure some would argue with this) we ended up climbing around to the ledge and setting up a top rope.

On the ledge looking out to the highway...

Kim carefully stepping up the thin fragile ice...

Dean kicking ass climbing all the way to the top where it got reeeeaally thin...

I wish I could do this every day!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Alaska Ice Climbing Festival

This year at the MCA Ice Climbing Festival in September, I learned about my friend Jayme's plans to host a winter Ice Climbing Festival in South Central Alaska. Jayme is a super cool climber chick who has been running the MCA Ice Festival for over 5 years, and does an awesome job coordinating all of the volunteers, gear and students on the Matanuska Glacier every September.

I have been looking for a side project to work on and wanted to get some more experience with web design (at work I mostly do back end coding and don't really design anything). So I offered to take on the website for the Alaska Ice Climbing Festival.

Most of October and the first half of November I have spent tweaking the design, working with my friend Dean, who created the graphics. Last night the site went live. Right now only the home page has content, but the design is finished, and we just need to fill in the details on the other pages.

Check it out... Alaska Ice Climbing Festival

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kid's Corner

I left with a group of four from Anchorage Friday morning to head out to Caribou Creek. We set out to climb Kid's corner from bottom to top. This is one of my favorite climbs that is set back inside a tight canyon. It was 2 degrees when we left the car around 11am.

The climb is a series of short pitches that fall down in between two rock walls. In between each pitch there are flat decks of ice that wind through the rock until you get to the base of the next pitch. It's a really beautiful place that inspired me to climb more in my first year of ice climbing.

You can only get there if you ice climb. I think that is what drew me to it. The first year I rapped in with a few friends and top roped a bit on one of the middle pitches. Last year Kim I went out with the intention of climbing up from the bottom but got shut down on the first pitch. It was a bit over our heads at the time. I went back later on the way back from Nebesna and climbed it with Jayme, but we only had time to do two pitches.

So this was my first time climbing from bottom to top. Dean led the first pitch, which is still a bit over my head when the ice is hard. Then we swung the lead back and forth until we got to the top. Carlene and Kari teamed up and climbed behind us. This was my first lead with a pack on and it turns out that after I started climbing I couldn't even feel it.

We climbed with our packs all the way to the top and then walked out on the trail just as the sun was setting. It was a perfect day.

Thanks to Dean for the photos...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Beer climbs

Saturday Kim, Laura and I got out for our first waterfall climb of the season.

We proved to be a bit rusty and out of shape, but it was a good day!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Good to know

I finally got enough energy to get out the door at 3pm today. Being my Friday off I had all kinds of plans for hiking or skiing all day in order to wear out my misbehaving dog, but when I woke up I was still feeling sick. So I hung around the house and read some books, took a few naps and cooked some soup.

At 3:30 I arrived at Upper Huffman trail head with the intention of riding my bike up the powerline trail. I didn't get very far before I had to push. It was just a bit too steep and a bit too soft for my little 2.3 tires to make it. But I knew the ride down would be fun so I continued to push my bike.

Niko kept disappearing into the bushes every few minutes every time racing out back to me to make sure I was there. By 4:45 the sun had started to set over the inlet so I decided I had pushed far enough. I stopped to take some pictures of the sunset and was crouching down behind my bike when Niko came tip-toeing out of the bushes next to me. He then pranced slowly down the trail with his ears back and tail between his legs.

That's odd I thought and continued to snap one more photo. At that moment I heard a loud roar coming from the bushes where Niko came out. He had pissed something off in there and he knew it. It was an unmistakable roar of a bear. I grabbed my bike and tried to slowly walk away while facing the bushes where the noise came from. I just wanted to get out of the immediate area without pissing it off further.

As soon as I was a safe distance from the area, I got on my bike and hauled ass down the Powerline Trail. I have never ridden my bike so fast, not even in a race. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure I was not being chased. Niko was very obediently running in front of my bike and kept looking back to make sure I was there.

So I guess it is safe to say that the bears are not yet sleeping or whatever it is that they do at this time of year. I have heard rumors of a few black bears up on Hillside eating garbage, but this one really sounded like a brown bear. I can also say that I never want to hear that sound again.

Thinking back it was funny how Niko quietly exited the area. I suppose that is the best reaction he could have had.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

You know what to do...

oops this comic changed and I can't find the new image...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween.

Nothing like a scavenger hunt in the dark on bikes in 5 degrees Farenheit. Leave it to Alaskans to party outside on Halloween. Brian, Laura and I tug along with the "Valley Trash" team and put in a win on the first annual Frigid Bits Halloween Scavenger Hunt. It's kind of hard to look slutty when it's 5 degrees out, so I'm not sure you can tell that the theme was white trash. I did my best. Oh yeah, and it's really hard to ride a bike when carrying twins. Lucky for me this was only a costume.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My 15 seconds of fame

Living in a red state is definitely a new challenge for me. So it's nice to get out every once in awhile and spend some time with like minded people. Just to remind me that they are around. Last Saturday, we met for an Alaska Women for Obama rally on the park strip. And guess what?

I was on the news. You would never know it was me because it was about 10 degrees and I had a ski jacket on with my hood up. But at the very end of this video you will see two women spinning and dancing off the screen. That's me and Laura.

Alaska Woman for Obama Rally

So I've pretty much taken the entire month of October off. I got burnt out on running and biking, so I haven't been doing either of those.

I have managed to start to get strong for climbing though. Monday nights are the infamous Core climbing classes that pretty much cripple anyone attending for the rest of the week. Thursday's I've been getting into the rock gym with a bunch of coworkers for a long lunch climb.

It's really amazing how fast I am getting my strength back. I pretty much picked up where I left off as far as what grade I can climb, but I am working on getting my endurance back. After 2 hours of climbing I'm pretty much sufficiently pumped and even have trouble typing on my keyboard when back at work in the afternoon.

Looks like I'll be back to blogging to. I took a little break from blogging as well because I figured you probably didn't want to hear about the way I organized my bathroom closet or the book on Agile Programming that I read or about how I cleaned up all the dog poop in my back yard or about the fabulous Beef Stew that I made. I'm getting a little too comfortable around the house and am figuring it is time to get back out into the mountains. Soon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I know I'm not getting out enough when...

... my house is clean. Cleaning is generally my lowest priority. If I have the opportunity for some outdoor adventure you can be sure that I will be there. If I'm not outside I'm usually in the kitchen cooking or baking something. If I'm not doing that I'm reading or relaxing on the couch. Then, if I have any free time left after all of this, I clean.

Lately the house has been pretty clean. We had Laura living with us for a few weeks, so that motivated me to get it together. Also, every quarter I try to go through all my stuff and give away or sell what I don't use in order to keep the clutter down. I don't like owning a ton of stuff. So I have been working on that.

I started noticing last night how organized the house was. I also noticed how soft I am getting around the middle. It's amazing how fast this can happen. Since last November I have been training continuously for different races and had been working out up to 6 days a week. Sometimes twice a day. So I have been in pretty good shape. I told myself I would take it easy in September, but now it's October and my motivation to get back into a regular workout routine has not arrived yet.

This week I'm forcing myself back into it. After not being able to climb an overhang at the Ice Festival last weekend that my students were getting up and then huffing and puffing on my bike ride last Wednesday, I've decided it's time to get my strength back. And although this is probably boring for all of you to read, I'm writing it down in here to keep myself accountable.

Here is my early winter plan (up until Christmas time when I invariably take another break). I actually have a gym membership that I haven't used in a month, so let's start with that. Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 5:45am there is a spinning class that I want to go to. Yikes that is early, but I would like to try it. Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings I will jog and/or hike with Niko and as soon as the snow flies (we actually had some last night but it didn't stick) that will turn into cross country skiing with Niko.

Add to that Yoga and the Rock Gym for strength during lunch breaks and I have a well rounded routine. This will leave most of my evenings free to do whatever I feel like. If I feel like skiing or going for a bike ride I will, or if I just feeling like watching a movie and cooking a hot meal, I won't have to feel guilty.

As soon as possible I will be doing a lot of ice climbing on the weekends. I'm hoping to get out of the Anchorage area this year and doing some exploring. I have every other Friday off which I plan on using for some sort of adventure. This Friday I'm heading back out to the Matanuska Glacier in search of a bottomless moulin that people have lowering into and climbing out of.

Friday, October 3, 2008

We are smarter than this

Were these people watching the same debate that I was last night? This just proves that most people don't really listen. They are just waiting for their turn to talk. This is a nightmare. Once again the American Presidential Election has become a circus. We are smarter than this people, or are we?

I never win anything

This weekend I planned on getting out my winter clothes and swapping them out with my summer clothes. I usually do this twice a year, while going through and selling or giving away what I don't wear, and figuring out if I'm missing any key pieces for the season.

I also planned on figuring out my winter bike commuting outfit since most mornings this week started out below freezing and I was not prepared. I realized that I don't really have any good winter bike clothes. Last year I always ended up wearing my ice climbing clothes but biking really wears away at them.

Sooo, last night my friend who just moved here, Laura, convinced me to go to an REI Women's Clinic, "Dressing for the outdoors". I figured I could always learn a little bit more about this AND she said you get a free goody bag so I decided to go.

And guess what? It was really lame. It was basically a two hour long Gore-Tex plug. I learned nothing about layering in the winter. I love Gore-Tex and I think Arc-Teryx makes great products but I will never pay $475 for a jacket. I leaned over to Laura and said, "Does she realize the only way we will end up with one of those jackets is if she gives us one tonight?"

And then she started to give stuff away. So we stuck around. Two women won 500 dollar jackets. "They just handed that women $500 and she said, 'Oh, thanks'." The prizes got smaller and smaller, but then she called my name. I won something. It was one of their new winter bike jackets. Perfect! So here is my plug because this jacket is awesome.

Gor-Tex has a new line of products out specifically designed for cold weather biking called Gore Wear. They all have either Windstopper fabric or Gore-Tex in them. Mine is a windproof jacket/jersey and the sleeves zip off (don't think I'll be using this feature until next summer). Pretty sweet!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

New Singletrack

Okay so I have to admit, at the time the Singletrack Advocates and the rest of the mountain biking community in Anchorage were raising money for a new system of trails in Far North Bicentennial Park I was a little bitter. You see, it's not that I oppose building new trails, quite the contrary. But I heard that they had raised $64,000 and was appalled that so much money was going to be spent on them.

At about the same time I was trying to raise money for Team In Training. I guess it was just shocking to know that people were more willing to put their money towards building trails than to cancer research. Maybe it's the whole tangibility issue. You never know exactly where your money is going when you give to charity.

Don't get me wrong, I think building new trails systems in Anchorage and beyond is a great idea. And it turns out the new singletrack is really nice. Brian and I rode out there today. Although only one trail is open, there is a whole network of trails that make a sort of playground for mountain bikers. It would be nice if there was a cheaper way to accomplish it though.

Here's Brian taking his bike off of a sweet jump.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Three days of September Sun

In my last post I think I forgot to mention that the three days I spent out on the Matanuska Glacier this past weekend were the most beautiful and sunny days of the summer. I actually had to search for my sunglasses on Friday when finishing up packing because I really hadn't put them on ALL summer. I eventually found them in my ice climbing bag. Seriously, the last time I had a need for sunglasses was in April.

So I thought I'd share a few more pictures from the weekend.

Happy sun burned face.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Feeling refreshed

The last time I was out climbing on the Matanuska Glacier was not a good day. It was rainy, cold and windy. My gloves were soaking wet and my fingers were freezing. I remember feeling burnt out on it. It was hard for me to muster up the motivation to get up even the easiest climb. I thought maybe I didn't want to climb anymore.

I climbed waterfall ice a lot last winter so in the spring I decided to take some time off to focus on trail running and biking. I kept turning down invitations to climb rock in the spring because I couldn't fit it into my schedule. I made a conscious decision to not climb at all until September and let people know that so that I would not have keep telling them, "Well, maybe next week."

Friday was my first day back to climbing since April. I helped teach a beginner course in the MCA Ice Climbing Festival making this my 4th festival. The first year I was a novice student. Then after climbing all winter and summer I moved up to advanced student. Last year I was an assistant instructor and this year I was a co-instructor for beginners.

The festival is always a good time, but after not climbing all summer I was anxious about how it would turn out. Would I go to teach the students how to swing a tool and completely forget all technique? Would we be able to find good ice, and if so would we be able to lead it in order to set up a good top rope? Would I be able to keep all of my students safe on the glacier?

As we pulled up early Friday afternoon I knew immediately that my burnout had passed. I went out with Carlene and Pat to scope out the scene and get some laps in. The permanent smile I always used to have when hiking out onto the Matanuska Glacier had returned. The first thunk of my tools into the ice and I was hooked again.

The students were tentative first thing Saturday morning. I really love to teach. I always get a bit nervous before attempting to teach something that I have only been doing for three years, but when I start talking I remember that I do have a lot of knowledge to pass on to them and that it's okay that I don't know everything. I'm still learning too.

Each student made some sort of impression on me by the end of the weekend. From the gifted athlete who already has amazing strength and picks up on technique really quickly to the guy who just moved here from Texas and is in total amazement by the beauty of the glacier and that we actually get to climb on it to the tenacious novice who struggles all weekend finally getting to the top of a difficult climb just minutes before we were to pull the ropes and pack up for the weekend.

We learned the basics the first day, and then we put them on some hard overhangs the second day. We kinda skipped the intermediate stuff. They were up for the challenge. It's really cool to see the students get better as the weekend progresses. It's fantastic to see them meet the goals they set out to achieve. I hope that I could provide them some guidance in doing that.

Sunday afternoon we pulled the ropes at 3:30pm, packed up our stuff and started to head out. I felt a twinge of sadness to end such a fantastic weekend and to have to leave the glacier behind. I felt that excitement in my stomach that I felt after my first Ice Festival. I think it was a good decision to take a break from climbing this summer. I feel so refreshed and ready to go that I can hardly think about anything else right now.