Sunday, June 28, 2009

24 Hours of Matanuska

Yesterday I had the best day of mountain biking of my life. Before 24 hours ago, my longest mountain bike ride was only 6 hours and about 40 miles. Yesterday I rode 12.5 hours pretty much non stop on mostly singletrack for a total of 72 miles.

And I felt great. The entire time. It was totally unexpected. It was the opposite of my experience last week.

I rolled into the start line at 12:20am after my last lap and could not believe what had just happened.

I went into the race thinking that I would ride for 6 hours and then probably crash, Maybe I would struggle through another lap or two. But 10pm rolled around (after 10 hours of riding) and I was having the best lap of the day. So when I came through the checkpoint at 10:30, I rode through and kept going. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined feeling that good after 10 and half hours of riding.

I'm am convinced now that my body is built for endurance. I used to think that I was a fast twitch muscle kind of person because when I was young, I could run really fast for short distances. But put me in a race of 1 mile or more and I struggled.

Things have changed. I'm obviously not fast. But I know now that I do have endurance. And my confidence in being able to complete the Soggy Bottom has been restored.

The way the 24 hour race is set up is probably the best kind of race for me. There is no finish line. There is no pressure to get to a certain point where people will be waiting for you. You just have 24 or 12 hours to ride and that works for me mentally and physically.

I can move along at my own pace knowing that I'm saving my legs for the next 12 hours and not have to worry about going slow. That allowed me to really enjoy the trails that I was riding. I could live in the moment and not think about where I would be riding in the future and when I would get there.

It helped that there was tons of fun singletrack followed by a beautiful grassy meadow with views of Matanuska Lake and Pioneer Peak. Every time I came up out into the meadow and got a break from the hills, my body and mind were refreshed. Any pain I felt before went away and I would roll into the finish line feeling really good.

After getting four laps in I decided to do a photo lap. I relaxed the entire lap, getting off the bike and taking photos every chance I got. I think this really did the trick in keeping me going. It was like a mini recovery. My next lap was the best one I had all day.

At the start of lap seven I rolled through the checkpoint and just kept going. It was 10:30 and I knew I had one more lap in me. The sun was starting to go down so I knew if I waited to start I would be riding in the dark. So I just kept on going.

About 10 minutes in is when I hit the wall. But I was glad that it had happened. I wanted to see if I could push myself through the pain. I talked myself through it. Every time I got through a certain section I would say, "That's the last time I have to do that hill." and "That's the last rooty singletrack I will ride today." and "Just the grassy meadow and I'm home free." I kept saying "You can do this. You are going to do this."

I crossed the finish with a huge smile on my face.

Here are some more pictures.

Monkee ready to go...

So many hills... there was about 1000 feet of climbing in each lap.

I walked quite a few of them...

7pm was significant because at that point I had ridden 7 hours making it my longest ride ever...

I clipped a tree after thinking, damn these trees are close, I wonder how many people have... boom, I was on the ground. What the hell just happened?

Happy to be done...

My friends greeted me at the finish line. I was soo happy to see them... and their beer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Going Solo

The 24 Hours of Matanuska race is this Saturday. And hey, after almost having a breakdown and quitting mountain biking completely to live under the trees near Juneau Lake, why not sign up for a 24 hour race? It makes sense to me.

I'm going solo this weekend, but only for the 12 hour version. Noon to midnight on Saturday I'll be riding in circles around a "fun but brutal" 11-ish mile course in the Valley.

I figure this will be a test of my endurance and help me to feel what it's like to be on a bike for that long. I bet it feels awesome. Like a hot soak in a bubbly tub, or the first sip of beer after a hard day out, or like eating a whole apple pie with ice cream.

After that I'm going to drink beer for 12 hours.

Mostly because this girl will be here visiting me...

Laurie Jenkins Smith (or LJ Smith), like the football player, only better and probably stronger, is one of my closest and oldest friends. Her dad was my dad's best friend. This picture describes how much I love her. Laurie is the kind of girl who will always have your back, and she is definitely the girl you want on your side in a fight. We met before we were 1 year old, which means I have known her for 33 years, and she is coming to Alaska tomorrow. I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'm going to Moab!

For real this time. And Fruita for a few days. Just bought my ticket today... for 5 dollars...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Google searches make me laugh and other random stuff

Some have called my last post depressing, time to lighten it up a bit...

With my recent toe activity, there have been a wave of new hits to this site. Here are some of the more funny searches:

"pinkie toe" (simple, sometimes you just want information)

"cut tendon to my pinkie toe" X 4 (other people have done this)

"why do we have pinkie toes"

"will a bandage on a broken pinkie toe heal it quicker than without"

"skin is hang from toes don't want to pull it off" (eww)

"can i cut off my pinkie toe" (looking for someone to talk you out of it?)

My boss accused me of going to great lengths to get out of work, but really I was just trying to bring more traffic to my site.

Here is a picture of Brian the first time I showed him my toe...

And this is where he made me sleep that night...

No seriously this is our bed that we made in the back of the subaru after the Bon Ton race Friday night when it was midnight and we were too tired and lazy to put up our tent.

And this is how Monkee felt about the idea...

Note the towel in the window to keep out the midnight sun. Not happy.

Alaska Breaks Me

Warning: this is a long one

I don't know if it's the fact that I am recuperating from the worst flu of my life, or that my stupid toe won't lift, or that I had ridden 23 miles only 12 hours before, or that I am just plain tired of coming in last in every single race that I do, but Saturday my body, mind and spirit were broken once again by Alaska.

Alaska has the power to push you way, way, way past your limits and when you're finished it makes you think you had a good time all the while. I've been clinging to the side of a mountain, crying, staring down at my death below me and hours later talking about how much FUN that hike was. I've been dangling from the side of a frozen waterfall watching a torso sized piece of ice come crashing down on my face almost knocking me off, only to feel empowered when I clipped in to the top of the climb. I've been flipped over my bike, broken leg and all, laughing while a bag of morphine is being attached to my arm on the side of the trail.

What I was doing Saturday was not particularly difficult or scary and not something I have never done before, but the way my body felt and the way my mind was working in combination with the hard ride was enough to make me rethink endurance mountain biking all together.

Friday and Saturday was the Bon-Ton Roulette. A two day ride/race put on by Carlos who organizes the Soggy Bottom. This is always one of the more fun weekends of the year, because it's Solstice Weekend and the ride ends in Hope at the Seaview Bar.

Friday night at 7pm we rode the road from Tern Lake to the Crescent Lake Trailhead, climbed the singletrack up to Crescent Lake and rode back to Tern Lake for 23 miles. I felt great and actually improved on my time from last year by 30 minutes. I came in last but convinced myself I was okay with that because I had improved so much.

Saturday morning the plan was to assess my condition and if I felt great I would do the second stage of the ride which was the same leg of the Soggy Bottom relay that I did last year. The ride is 35 miles and a few thousand feet of climbing from Devil's Creek Trailhead, up over Devil's and Resurrection Pass, with a 17 mile descent down to Hope. If I felt tired I would ride with Tim, Ken and Heather out to Cooper Landing which was slightly shorter at 27 miles.

I felt good that morning despite the lack of sleep I got in the back of the Subaru the night before and decided to do the race/ride as planned. But things started to go wrong early that morning. The biggest thing was that I didn't get to eat breakfast after waiting at the Summit Lake Lodge for 45 minutes. So I ended up eating an old cliff bar and a small apple. I would find out later that with 35 miles of riding ahead of me, that wasn't going to cut it.

As soon as we started climbing out of Devil's my chain popped off, and then the pain and fatigue in my thighs began. I thought they were just stiff from the night before, so I sucked down some Accelerade and some taquitos and kept pushing up. The crowd of racers were long gone and Tim, Ken and Heather who were riding casually, passed me as well.

With every pedal stroke came pain in my legs and back and heavy breathing. I pushed on because I thought that I would warm up soon enough and be flying over the tundra on Resurrection Pass, with a huge smile on my face, on my way to the descent. The fun always comes, I just had to wait for it.

But the fun never came. The pain persisted and my breathing never slowed. I actually walked a number of the hills up out of Devil's, which I have never done before. I glanced down at my bike computer to see 2.5 mph and then turned it back to the clock setting, vowing to never look at it again.

I started to have bad thoughts about the Soggy Bottom and how maybe I was not ready for it this year. I thought, what the hell am I thinking, I'm not like those other people who are probably already in Hope and maybe I'm not cut out for mountain bike racing. Forgetting that I had cut 30 minutes off of my time the night before, I thought I will never get faster no matter how much I train, even though I am faster than I was last year.

So when I caught up with Ken, Heather and Tim, I decided that I wanted to get out of this race as fast as possible. And they provided me with an out. They were heading out to Cooper Landing, which was only 17 miles down from Devil's Pass as opposed to 25 lonely miles down to Hope. And in a moment of weakness, I took it.

And it was exactly what my broken mind and body needed at that time. Good friends to help me through this time when I wanted to curl up under a tree, cry for a few hours and then go to sleep for a few days. Good people to cheer me through the rough spots on the trail when I thought my legs would never do another pedal stroke again. Good times with people who make me laugh and forget about the pain.

No, I didn't do what I set out to do that day, and I didn't do it on my own, but sometimes you just need to take the help. So thanks Heather, Ken, and Tim for helping me get out of there and making me laugh in the mean time. And H that ride was not awesome! I'm sticking to it!

We arrived in the parking lot at Cooper Landing and I said, "I'm never doing the Soggy Bottom solo. WTF! Can you imagine turning around and going back up THERE! No f-ing way!" All agreed. And we drove back to Hope to meet up with everyone else.

On the drive back down the Hope road I started to think about giving up. I thought about the feelings I have been having lately about coming in last. It used to be funny, it used to be my thing, I'm last and that's fine. But now I was really training and still coming in last and that just hurts.

And I kid you not, just as I had decided to give up I saw a man in a wheelchair bike, pedaling solo with his arms up a huge hill on the Hope road. He had no use of his legs at all and maybe never will, but he kept pedaling.

As the night went on and the beers flowed, I began talking to the crazy people again. You know the type, the people that ride from Devil's to Hope in three hours, some of them on a singlespeed. The people that invented these races. The people that think riding over Resurrection Pass is just about the best thing that you can do.

Those crazies told me that everyone has bad days and that I cannot make my decision about the Soggy Bottom based on one bad day alone. What about all the good days of training I had had? One of those drunken crazies reminded me that he had dropped out of the Soggy Bottom after 45 miles because of a bad day, and that so had my boyfriend Brian. That didn't mean that they were going to quit.

I was back on the crazy wagon by the end of the night.

So this week I am working on getting my bike fitted more properly to get ride of some of my back pain and hopefully make my pedaling more efficient. I'm going to think a lot about nutrition this week as well. Part of my problem was that I don't think I refueled my glycogen properly after the race Friday night.

The good thing is that when Alaska breaks you, it also builds you back up stronger than you have ever been before. And that's where I am now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Toe Physical Therapy.. seriously

Last night I started toe physical therapy. I was a little embarrassed going in there, I have to admit. People were coming out on crutches, learning how to walk again, building up the muscles in their arms, rehabilitating a back injury. I sat on a table while the therapist moved my pinkie toe up and down.

The little guy just will not budge. I can move it down, and out to the side, but cannot lift it. The therapist attached this little machine that uses electronic pulses to make my muscles contract thus lifting my toes. She thought if we can get it to lift this way, we'll know the tendon is still attached. So she turned it on, I felt the tingling sensation and my toes lifted. All of them except one.

So I have some exercises to do at home to try and rehabilitate it. She said don't get discouraged, it may just take some time for it to respond again. In the meantime the therapist told me to sit there trying to lift the toe while saying, "Lift baby toe, lift!" in order to get my brain signal down there to the little guy.

And because it was not much of a workout at all (H and Jill got a good laugh over this the other day), I met Tim out for a grand tour of the new STA singletrack. We road ALL of it. Up Queen Bee Loop, around the Hive, down Hornet's Nest & Stinger, back up Yellow Jacket and out the Hive.

It was about 2 hours of fun twisty singletrack riding. I'm still a bit rusty this year on the very little technical stuff there is on these trails. A few rocks, one large root that I just bounced off of instead of going over, and some hairy switch back turns that I just barely made it through without falling over.

This area is great to get in work on my two biggest limiters: climbing and fast descents. I'm pretty excited about my downhill skills right now. A year ago all this downhill would have scared the crap out of me, but I felt completely comfortable letting it go a bit on the downhill. Not once did I think about endos or broken bones. Not that I don't think I will ever endo again, it's just pointless to worry about it all the time. If it happens, it happens. I still probably overuse my brakes a bit, but that should get better as I get used to these trails.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lehigh Canal Towpath

Here are some pictures from one of the rides I did in A-town last week. Angie, Eric and I road 20 miles from near my sister's house in Easton, PA to my mom's house in Allentown along the Lehigh Canal Towpath.

The canal was originally built to haul coal throughout the Lehigh Valley. It started with a big hill climb on a road for the first few miles but when we got the tow path it was pretty much flat from there on out.

Notice the green... those plants on the side of the trail are almost as bad as Devil's Club. I brushed up against one and got a stinging sensation from my knuckles all the way up my arm. It didn't go away for about 30 minutes. Later my sister didn't believe me and stuck her entire leg out into a bush, she came back with welts on her leg.

I never noticed how much graffiti there is in PA, it's on everything. These are the kinds of things your recognize after you have not lived in a place for awhile. When you live there it just blends in with the scenery.

We emerged on Front street in Allentown. Not exactly the ideal place to be while riding on a $3700 rented bike. It was interesting to ride through the ghetto of Allentown, we don't really get down there so much these days.

We stopped at the local bar for some beer and appetizers. Good day out!

Monday, June 15, 2009

No running for at least 3 weeks

I visited the podiatrist again today and got my stitches out. Someone told me that getting the stitches OUT hurts more than getting them in. I don't remember who it was, but whoever they are, THEY ARE CRAZY. I didn't feel a thing.

The doctor and I sat and stared at my unresponsive toe and tried to decide why it is refusing to move. I showed him my trick of getting it to flare out to the side and he said, "That's nice. But that's a different muscle."

It could very well be that the tendon has ruptured again. But we've decided to give it three weeks of physical therapy (or three weeks of some trained professional lifting and lowering my pinkie toe for an hour every few days, be sure to get a mental picture of this), until we decide whether or not to do an MRI.

I started laughing in the podiatrist's office because I pictured myself waking up one day, tossing the covers aside to reveal my revived pinkie toe standing up on it's own, shining in the sunshine in all of it's glory. I would jump out of bed and spin around the room like it was the happiest day of my life.

Sometimes I forget that other people are reading this...

In the meantime the only thing I'm not allowed to do is run. In the grand scheme of things I suppose no running for 3 weeks won't make a big difference. But if you think about the chain of events that it's going to set off, maybe it makes a little bit of a difference in my world.

In less than three weeks is the Mt. Marathon Race. That means, that I can't run the race this year. The good news is, I can get an injury waiver for and preserve my spot in next years race.

Before you can take time off from Mt. Marathon (to come back whenever you want), you have to be a veteran, which means you have to have successfully completed the race 10 times. I started doing this race in 2007 when I was 31. This would have been my third time in the race. Which would mean in 2016, when I turned 40, I would have been doing my 10th race. That would have been cool.

But, assuming that I don't get injured during this time of year again, I will be 41 when I do my 10th race. Not as cool. Alright I guess it's not that big of a deal.

I'm also coming to the realization that I will not be running a marathon this fall. I sort of already thought that it might be too much to do a 100 mile mountain bike race and then immediately start marathon training, but more difficult things have been done.

All of this is going to end up being good for me in the end. Now I can focus on mountain biking and not have any distractions with this running stuff. Sometimes we just need to sever our appendages to bring us back down to earth so that we can focus.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Pennsylvania Ride

It's been one week since my toe trauma and it feels fine. Today I taped my little toe to the one next to it and put a real shoe on it. I dropped Brian off at Hilltop Ski Area so he could ride up to Powerline Pass and back down and figured I would try an easy hike.

I walked for an hour around the hillside trails and I felt nothing in my toe. It just feels different because it's taped up, but I have no pain. I am now feeling confident that I didn't ruin my summer. It sucks that I have had 8 days off the bike right in the middle of when I was supposed to be doing hard training, but I still have 7 weeks until the Soggy Bottom. I think with the miles I logged pre-injury and if I work my ass of over the next 7 weeks, I can do it.

I even got in about 60 miles on dirt while I was visiting in Pennsylvania. It's really hard to find a rental bike in Allentown, where I grew up, but I did find one shop in Hellertown that was willing to whip something together for me to ride for the week.

The shop is called Saucon Valley Bikes and the owner Steve is super cool. He hooked me up with a 29r that he said I could buy from him for $3700. Well I probably won't be taking him up on that offer anytime soon, but it was an awesome ride for the week.

Photo from

The frame is made in PA by a company called EWR. I rode the EWR OWB29r, which is hands down the nicest bike I've ever ridden. I told Steve when I dropped it off at the end of the week that my riding skills seemed to jump up a few levels with this bike.

Just like I suspected with a 29r, I could roll over everything. For a year I've been following Brian and his 29r and watching him go over stuff that I never dreamed I would be able to clear. I understand why now. With a 29r you get to cheat. You don't have to do anything, the bike does it for you. Yeah, that's right, I said it. You 29r riders out there are cheating. But that's okay, I understand.

I love the riser bars on this bike, I think I will get some for my bike.

My sister Angie and her fiance Eric took off work most days last week to ride with me all over the trails of the Lehigh Valley.

I still can't get over how green it is there right now.

More pictures from PA to come!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Arctic Valley Hell Climb

Since I have all of this time this weekend while I'm resting my foot, I decided to catch up on some posts that I wrote in May but never posted. Here's one from the first and last mountain bike race that I did so far this season. Hopefully it won't be the last for the summer.

I have to note that when I asked Tim if he wanted to do this ride once he said he'd rather saw one of his toes off with a piece of dental floss, which I thought was quite hilarious until, well... I almost sawed my toe off.

From May 20th

Tuesday was the first mountain bike race of the season. I couldn't get any of my friends to go, I wonder why? Maybe because the Arctic Valley Hill Climb is 6 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain on a dusty dirt road with little scenery and a lot of pain.

I didn't expect to do well relative to the others in this race. I have never actually successfully ridden all the way to the top of this road on my own. That's kind of why I entered the race, so that I would not be able to quit halfway through.

About one mile into the race, just as we started to ride uphill, the rest of the pack disappeared over the horizon. I was on my own and moving at about 4 mph, chugging away in granny gear. At that time I began to think about how bad of an idea this was. I didn't want to go all the way to the top. I was in pain, breathing heavily and my calf muscles felt as if they were going to spill out onto the pavement.

This is how most of my races go. I'm so excited at the start and about 10 minutes in I have so many negative thoughts about why I do not belong in the race. After I get warmed up I have a moment of elation where I love my life and Alaska and the world and everyone in the race. That usually very quickly subsides and I'm back to self-loathing. Maybe that's why I never do well?

I should be at the front of the pack, jogging out of the saddle, full of energy, shouting my mantra! I can do it! I can do it! Like this guy who broke the record and got to the top in 34 minutes and 11 seconds. I guess that's just not my style. My style is self deprecation balanced with euphoria. I guess you could say I'm a manic depressive racer. I'm an idiot! I am soo cool. How the hell did I get here? This is awesome, I hope this race never ends! When does this race end?

Well, it seems to work for me. I finished. I came in last and the race organizer was packed up and driving away as I got to the top, but I finished damn it. And it felt good. I think starting this race is an accomplishment in and of itself. That's probably why there were only 15 people there.

I do strive to do better, though. I don't always want to just finish. I'm still fairly new to bike racing and I think with experience and better fitness I'll see myself moving up in the pack. But in the meantime, maybe I need to work on my attitude?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pinkie Toes. Do we really need them? (Part 3)

Read Part 2 here

After 14 hours of travel from Allentown, Pennsylvania back to Anchorage overnight on Monday through Tuesday afternoon, I crashed hard when I got back to the house. I went to bed at 7pm and slept until 7am. I brought back with me yet another cold and a bum toe.

It's been hard to be in Anchorage and see the mountains and the gorgeous weather (it was over 70 degrees yesterday) knowing that I may not be able to fully enjoy it the next few weeks. Brian did a Kincaid bike race Tuesday night that I had planned on doing and that stung a little bit, but I tried to keep positive until I knew what was really going on with my toe.

In the three days after the surgery my toe began to sag again. I tried lifting it, but it wouldn't budge. By Wednesday morning the muscles in my pinkie toe were atrophied (yes there are muscles in there) and it was hanging down as far as it could.

I went to a podiatrist in Anchorage on Wednesday afternoon. He said it could be one of three things. One, the tendon could have detached again. Two, my muscles could be weak from not using them for a few days and I would need to build them up again. Three, my tendon could be pissed at me for cutting it in half and it may be protesting.

After examining me he determined that it was probably still attached (yay! no more surgery) and that it was most likely a combination of the last two scenarios. I tried apologizing to the tendon, but apparently I'm not getting off that easy. He showed me some pinkie toe exercises that I need to do over the next few days and told me that I could come back in on Monday and get the stitches out.

But the best part of my visit was this.

"Can I ride a bike?"

"Sure. I don't see why not. Do whatever you can tolerate."


So now I'm pumping iron with my pinkie toe and hoping to continue on with my plans for the summer. So much better than I thought this was going to turn out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pinkie Toes. Do we really need them? (Part 2)

Read Part I here.
Warning: Don't read this if you are squeamish

"The local anesthesia should be kicking in now. Can you feel this?" The surgeon asked as he pinched my foot.


"You should feel pressure but no pain." He pinched again.

"I feel pressure AND pain. I don't think it's working."

"Alright, let's give it a minute."

After a few minutes he started the procedure. I was feeling skeptical about the local anesthesia. It didn't seem to be numbing my toes at all, but I wanted them to get this over with so that I could get back to my Nana's 80th birthday party. I thought about all of my relatives waiting for me that I get to see only twice a year and couldn't believe I was spending this time in the emergency room.

For the next twenty minutes I watched in pain while the assistant held open my new wound and the doctor used the forceps to dig around under the skin of my foot to find the detached tendon. It went something like this - he would find something that he thought was my tendon, pull on it with the forceps and then realize that it wasn't the right thing and release it. Repeat. Needless to say, under less than effective local anesthesia, this is not the most comfortable of procedures.

I flinched a few times, and said, "Ouch", very quietly, but on the inside I was screaming. The surgeon would look up and say, "Does it hurt? If it's too much for you to handle we will stop."

This is one of those things that doctors say to get you to shut up. You'll stop? Then what? I will walk around with a lame toe for the rest of my life? So I let him keep going, and decided I would work on my pain management.

I breathed in and out slowly and tried to think of other things while hiding behind my magazine. Unfortunately the magazine I chose to bring to the ER was Running Times and it was hard to concentrate on knowing that I would probably not be having any "Running Times" anytime soon. 800 meter repeats? No way. Run your best marathon? Not this summer. The 10 best foods for runners? Eww, food.

My curiosity got the best of me and I kept watching the surgery. Finally the doctor found the tendon and pulled it out through the wound to be revealed. I felt immense pressure in my entire foot as he stretched the tendon. It looked just like the tendons you sometimes find in a piece of chicken. Then I realized this was the inside of my foot and almost threw up all over the table.

I got it together and sighed in relief until the surgeon said, "Okay we got that end, now we just have to find the end that is in your toe."

"Oh, right. There's another end to it."

Pinch, pull, repeat for another ten minutes.

Finally he found it and put two stitches in it. He asked if I could try lifting my toe and it seemed to work a little. Then it was time to sew up the skin. Let me just tell you that there are about one thousand times more nerves in your skin than in your tendons. That is all I have to say.

"Okay your all set!" The surgeon said after bandaging me up and putting a not-so-attractive boot on my foot.

"So I have some questions."

"Go ahead."

"How long will this take to heal? I mean, what can I and can I not do and for how long?"

He glanced at my magazine. "Well I would say no marathon training for at least four weeks."

"Can I... ride a bike?" I was hesitant to ask because I'd rather not know if the answer was going to be "no".

"Do you use your pinkie toe when you ride?", he asked.

"I don't know, I think I probably do."

"I would wait to see what the follow-up doctor says in Anchorage. You may heal faster than others. You should wait to see how you are progressing in a few days."

And that was that. I wasn't going to worry about it until I got back to Anchorage. At least he gave me a little bit of hope. But I had a feeling it was going to turn out bad.

To be continued...

Pinkie Toes. Do we really need them?

As I laid on an emergency room table in Pennsylvania on Sunday afternoon, I looked around and thought, This is a becoming an all too familiar scene. I was surprisingly calm as I watched the doctor stitch up my foot. The local anesthesia that he had given me was not really working. I could feel every stitch pierce into my skin, but that was no match for the thoughts that were running through my head about how I may have just ruined my summer with one slip of my hand.


Earlier that day, while getting ready for my Nana's 80th birthday party, I was cutting something with a chef's knife that was really sharp. It slipped out of my hand and dropped to the floor.

Judging by the lack of pain that I felt, I thought I had pulled my bare feet out of the way. I then looked down and was surprised to see a large pool of blood on the floor.That couldn't be from me? I don't feel anything.

But it was my blood. The knife had fallen straight down into my foot just above my pinkie toe and bounced out. After we got the bleeding to stop I decided to investigate the damage. The slice was about a half inch long. The cut was pretty deep (the skin on my foot is pretty thin) and everyone thought that I would need stitches. I still wasn't convinced. "Couldn't we just hold it together with some fly bandages?"

I decided to wait until my Nana arrived and then decide whether or not I needed to go to the ER. In the meantime we bandaged up the cut with some fly bandages to hold it together. When I went upstairs to put my flip flops on I noticed that my pinkie toe was hanging down and I couldn't lift it. I decided a trip to the hospital would be unavoidable and felt a little twinge of panic with the thought of not being able to move a part of my body, no matter how small or insignificant the pinkie toe may be...


The doctor walked into the room, took one look at my toe, and said, "I hear you cut your foot. Wow, does your toe always hang down like that?"

"Um, no, that's why I'm here." I said.

After examining it further he said, "You cut through the tendon that holds your pinkie toe up."

"Oh. Well can you put it back together?"

"I'll stitch up the skin today and refer you to a podiatrist that you can meet with tomorrow. He'll reattach your tendon."

"Well, I'm supposed to fly back to Anchorage tomorrow. I live in Alaska. I'm just visiting my family."

"You live in Alaska????" This was followed by all the usual fuss that is made over the fact that I live in Alaska. People in Pennsylvania cannot fathom why anyone would ever want to move to Alaska, but after spending a week in 90 degrees and 100% humidity, I was eager to get back.

"Well we'll have to get a surgeon in here today. We'll get you fixed up."

There was an hour and half wait before the surgeon came in. It gave me some time to think about what this might mean for my summer.

A cut on the skin would heal in a week. A severed tendon would probably take longer. How much longer? I am in the middle of the hardest training weeks of the summer. Was all of the training I did this winter and spring for nothing? I would surely lose fitness with a month of doing nothing.

We wait for the months of June and July all year long, making plans, booking cabins, entering and training for races, dreaming about the days of perpetual sun when we hike until midnight and ride our bikes in overnight races. I thought about how we may only be in Alaska for a few more years and how I may have just wiped out an entire summer because of my clumsiness.

Maybe I can convince them to just cut it off? That would certainly heal much faster than a reattached tendon. If I had no pinkie toe, there would be no need for the tendon, right? What does a pinkie toe do anyway? My friend Ken lost one of his in a lawn mowing accident and he seems fine. He's faster than me on a bike? Maybe without this toe I would be faster? I snapped back into reality as the surgeon walked in.

"I hear you live in Alaska?" He said.

"Yes, and I have a dead pinkie toe."

To be continued...