Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dirtster Meets the Wizard & Other Explicit Shenanigans

There's some sort of truth to this March Madness and it has nothing to do with Basketball teams and only a little to do with the Twitter handle @asgarbagecan and a mistaken #TwitterWar I started with ultrarunning's best female marathoner. However, none of that madness is anywhere near as interesting as the story I am about to tell.

In my world, the real madness began when I left early March to live on the road, destined for the fantastically warm Southwest and all the softening of the brain, insanity, and intoxication of spirit that was to come in those too brief three weeks of freedom. The trip consisted of work on the Bigfoot 200 & Arizona 200 courses, a race to compete in, and playing/exploring new trails.

First, there was work to be had.  Oh work, it was at its best at that moment because I was getting to be on the trail and out from in front of the computer. This kind of work is like that feeling of almost being on top of the mountain while traversing one of its ridges, trees like a carpet of wrinkles in the distance, the ground so far away I could almost be rock climbing. It's a combustible mixture of danger, excitement, and concentration. There's nothing like that feeling of being high and it makes me wonder why I'd ever want anything man made again.

Cutting the Edge: Race Directing 2015

It's with a sense of exploration and need for danger that feeds me in both my work and personal life and what better place to experience it than on the road? This trip began with a new camping car and plans to fastpack a race course the first week. Freedom took the shape of a boxy black Honda Element with seats taken out for sleeping quarters, a skybox, no cruise control, driving way too fast, and a FM ipod transmitter for my music. Failure would mean far more in this endeavor than in just any old fast packing trip. I had to establish a new route for the end of the Bigfoot 200. To read more about why, check out my petition and learn about how an organization wants to ban events on the Pacific Crest Trail.

As a race director who takes on some of the biggest projects in the trail event world (see Tahoe 200, Bigfoot 200, & Arizona 200) I have started to feel a bit like Atlas, holding the world on my shoulders. Only it's a dream world that through my dedication comes alive with adventures, mountains, wild streams, endless trails and exhilaration laced fatigue. Occasionally mythical creatures like Bigfoot, the Wonderland Puma, and on this trip, a Wizard make an appearance in these adventures. Carrying my dreams, heavy as they may be at times, makes me stronger and capable of more and more. I wonder how the world can keep expanding exponentially for me and yet I don't question the process, I just go for it.
Pre-Race talk before the inaugural 2014 Tahoe 200
Typically Race Directing consists of organizing people and supplies, purchasing swag/supplies, public speaking, course design/marking, however, I consider myself more of a dreamweaver than anything. Dreamweaving is the part I am especially good at. Good enough to feel that knock of fate that makes my work feel like a religion of trails: a map I'd follow no matter what the world around me looked like or expressed, I'm blind to obstacles and clear about the desired outcome.

Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal. ---Vince Lombardi

Somehow, by creating the first single loop 200 mile in the USA, the Tahoe 200, I brought into the light a movement of ultra-ultra distance events that has been slowly growing as more runners want to test their limits beyod 100 miles. These outrageously long races aren't easy (by any definition of the word!) to direct or compete in. They are sure to leave their recipients begging for mercy all the while using their last good hand to type their initials into Ultrasignup. Into the dream an adventurous few go! Creating their own adventure out of that spiderweb of dreams I'd created and living, I mean like real live fucking living! The Tahoe 200 and Bigfoot 200 and other events of their breed of crazy shouted out for an extreme need for freedom and a propensity to enjoy exhilaration laced fatigue, masochism or whatever you call that human "Peeling of the Onion." Who are we, we people of the trail that just crave more: more time on the trail, more pain, more distance, more hallucinations, more freedom? I wondered.

Week 1: Rerouting the Bigfoot 200 & Driving South West

Fast packing never goes how you expect it to go. Plan away then plan to throw away the plan. Which is how the Bigfoot fastpacking went when I ran into 10-20 feet of snow over the trail just 10 miles into the 100 mile route I'd devised. Read about my fastpacking gone wrong trip here. In all honesty, I really only needed to do about 25 miles of trail. The extra 75 miles was for fun, a "fun padding" of sorts, and because I needed to somehow loop around to my car by the end of the thing. No one was there to pick me up, shuttle me point to point, or save me if something went wrong. Just the way I like it: a personal religious fucking experience with no intermediaries to tame the process or outcome. With the fast packing work behind me and a new end of the Bigfoot 200 course plotted and approved I was off again, for Moab this time.
The trail quickly became impossible to follow without use of my GPS on my Bigfoot 200 scouting run.
Moab & Monument Valley

Driving was like being at a good concert where you have to sit in your seat the whole time, but damn is that muuuusic was good. I needed some time to think, or maybe it was time to not think, to have a singular purpose rather than my usual Olympic level multi-tasking. My iphone 5s was encased in a pink lifeproof case defaulting to a "note" signal with every message and I was just driving, the messages piling up like paperwork on the Forest Service's desk.  Now . we . are . talking.  This is what I was meant to do.  No, not drive across the country! To experience life. Let's go. I was heading to Moab to play for a few days on new trails then to Monument Valley in Arizona to run a race that I shouldn't run in a place I was ready to experience. Which is how the race went, in a nutshell of sand and sun.

After the running event that ended for me before its full experience was to be had and yet so many miles of sand, sunshine, fellow travelers on the trail of "Peeling Their Onion" and red mountains that more resembled shines to some ancient God than piles of rock and sand, it was time to move on. I know the feeling of needing to leave all too well. It means leaving people who love me, people who care about me, people who barely know me but want more, leaving the experience of understanding a place and its people because I need the simplicity of the road and trail and the introverted experience of sailing my own ship no matter what. It's me and the highway, not me or the highway.
Monument Valley, picture courtesy Ultra Adventures
With all those thoughts of leaving Monument Valley, I was gone with a billow of red dust and coffee grinds, fallen mistakenly from their filter telling the story of the Bigfoot 200 like a light roast out of Seattle: mapping my softening of brain madness farther and farther South like Hansel and Gretel's enchanted but dangerous walk in the woods. Next stop: Flagstaff. And why not? It was 4pm leaving Monument Valley with just a 3 hour drive to Flag (2.5 for me, remember no cruise control). There's no better place to car camp than a town with excellent microbreweries. Onward.

What Happens in Flagstaff...

Which is how I found myself sneaking out of a brewery in Flagstaff at 9 p.m. to avoid an awkward "Not Interested" situation when my unwanted consort left for the restroom. It seemed like a reasonable time to check out one more of the many local breweries in town a solas.

Place #2, not to be named for fear of being exposed for the brewery jumping dirtster that I am, had some reasonably good live music. After some interesting insights into the local music scene, I was again free from man made buildings and brew and walking 2" high and in a skirt of all things, all the while trying futilely to find my rental: a brick two room mirage of escape from the evening, that eluded me.

Within a few minutes, I stopped in my tracks by my own inadequacy: I had no idea where I was. Had I walked this way or that way? Of all the places I have been lost, this was surely one of the lonliest. I'd rather be lost on the mountain that in the city. At that second that was spiked by fear, I paused, surely looking lost and I heard from the other side of the street, "Do you need help?"

Dirtster Meets the Wizard

I glanced over and immediately I knew that I did need help, at least from this man. Breweries or not, 3 a.m. or not, he was clearly a picture of Flagstaff hospitality. Without further ado, I handed him the keys to my room. Before you judge, it was all in an effort to determine where my rental was. I'm not the type of person to rent some bullshit hotel cookie cut from a mother fucking strip mall.  I want the real deal: a quirky place with a $5 deposit hard key with your room number taped on one side and and shower that takes 10 minutes to warm up. After a minute of surprising clarity, I was able to explain the details of my hotel accurately enough to my new and very helpful friend that he quickly found my building. What are you a freaking Wizard? I asked, not sure if I spoke out loud of just in my head.

We parted ways after exchanging numbers so we could run the next day (Yes the Wizard runs and apparently you have to be out at 3 a.m. on a Saturday to find single runner guys. No wonder I have been single for a while). As I tried to open the door to my room, fishing in my purse and coming up short, I realized I did not have my keys and that the tall handsome fellow I'd just met must have them. After weeks of sleeping in the Element it was a pretty scary thought to miss out on a 'real' bed.

My new friend, the Wizard, was just across the street considering exactly where to place a not so private piss on the neighboring building or bushes when I interrupted him with, "Hey do you have my keys still?" Yes, of course he did. Again we were propelled into communicating with each other, all the way to my room. We sat in my brick room talking for hours until I said I must sleep, making it a strangely short night under the circumstances. Afterall, it's just me and the highway and trail and so I said goodbye and despite last minute promises to run the next day, I knew I would leave to avoid any real connection. I had too many plans to be distracted.

Escape & Discovery in Arizona

I left for Sedona as fast as I could that same day to be free, completely free from anyone else's expectations. I remember some texting in that process of me leaving as I canceled my plans to run with the Wizard: I was too busy. That night in Sedona, the town of expensive hotels, beautiful trails and overwhelming impersonality, I felt that I'd made a mistake to run away from Flagstaff so quickly.

I'm not one to stay a course that doesn't feel right. I follow my heart at every turn no matter what logic says, and the few times I haven't I correct quickly. With a fear in my heart, a fear of closeness, but a greater feeling of regret that needed to be righted I drove back to Flagstaff to continue to experience the city of mountains, altitude, desert, and brewery-fuckin-college town-country two step-brain numbing-mountain running-Rob Krar single track bliss that is essentially Flag. And to see the Wizard.

The Wizard and I agreed to meet that St. Patty's night with some of his friends and one of mine, a dirtbagging woman, Joelle, I'd met the night before. AS the night went on, our group whittled down from 10 or so to just me and the Wizard and Joelle and her new companion, Solar Power, at a Irish bar DJ party. It wasn't long before the Wizard and I were warned that we would be kicked out for our dancing antics. The Wizard has some moves, let me tell you. I mean like real dance moves.

You'd think that a warning would quell our dancing, however, we laughed mischieviously at Mr. Security and the Wizard whispered that I could do a flip on the dance floor. Naturally I agreed, with no prior flipping experience. In a moment that hung in the air, much like I'm sure my lacy black underwear did, upside down, the Wizard flipped me backwards head over heels in a stunt I cannot even imagine doing sober.

If you do a flip in a bar and no one sees your underwear, did it really happen? My guess is as good as yours. All I know is that we were not kicked out after that stunt, more magic perhaps? The night ran into the next day like black felt tip in water and it was soon time to go. But first, just one more round on the dance floor, so I set down my bag and we took one minute to twirl around or in my case, double step on the Wizard's foot (he was very understanding). Solar Power and Joelle were still at the bar and as we started to head out together, I realized someone had grabbed my entire bag: credit cards, phone, ID, cash, everything.

Sinking, sinking, sober into the seriousness of the moment, a moment that had just been so carefree and was now heavy as wet cotton. Solar Power let me call my bank from his downtown office to cancel my cards, but I was left with the problem of how to get into my hotel room at 2 a.m. with no key. Which is why this little fact came in so handy: the Wizard, in his usual Wizardly ways also happens to be quite beautifully tall. Which gave me an idea and simultaneously made me wonder if I somehow knew this whole debacle would happen in the first place. I'd left the bathroom window ajar earlier that evening and I remember thinking that it would be good to leave open just in case I got locked out of my room. The Wizard's height plus a window being open meant that we might have a fighting chance at getting into my room.

When we arrived at the brick building, we surveyed the situation. The window was above the Wizard's eye level, but not out of reach. He was more nimble that I'd expected, getting his leg on the small ledge with a little lifting of his other leg from me. Lucky for both of us, he was tall and slender, as no extra calories would be funneled through that small window, your typical fast runner body. The Wizard was in the room and unlocking my front door like he'd been breaking and entering his entire juvenile lifespan. Somehow that was an attractive trait at 3 a.m. in the morning sans keys.

Despite my bag and all its innards (phone, debit cards, ID, cash) being stolen and the subsequent trip to Verizon that very next morning to replace the phone I somehow managed to survive. I know right?! The plan was to go to Verizon to get a new phone, then begin the long 23 hr drive back to Washington from Arizona.

Going to Verizon was like stepping into a time vortex. The employees were comically lacking in ability to help me replace my phone. The Wizard accompanied me and managed to make me laugh between my quiet cursing of mobile phone carriers and being jockied around the office like a new secretary. Without my ID I had very limited options for getting a new phone or replacing my stolen one.

Me to the Wizard: Don't you want to leave? This is obviously going to take a while.

Wizard: Yes, with you.

Me: Ha! Yes, well... they've already asked me to prove who I am by having me answer my secret questions, making me show them the title to my car, printing out my insurance card as proof, and still won't let me get a phone. Next thing they're going to make me run a fucking ultra or design a 200 miler in 2 hours.

Fucking Verizon. 3 hours later I walked out with the Wizard, a new iPhone 6, and a bill that makes a new home mortgage look like panhandling pocket change. It was already 2:30 in the afternoon and it seemed like a good time to finally have breakfast. The Wizard in his usual laid back understated hospitality offered to make food at his place. How was it that we kept ending up at each other's doorstep, or in this case kitchen stool? I never decline an offer from a 28 year old to make me breakfast and so I found myself enjoying eggs and bacon in the shadow of Arizona's Mt. Humphrey, Mt. Elden, and the San Francisco Peaks.

Returning to Washington

Just when it felt right to stay in a place, it was again time to leave. It's been a while since I've had mixed feeling about leaving a place because of a person. It's usually because of the place itself, its trails, and mountains. My drive back to Washington began that same night of my 'breakfast for dinner' shenanigans with the Wizard. After a very lingering goodbye to the Wizard at sunset, I was off shooting through the night in my Element, a satellite orbiting the earth, sure that I'd be back around to this spot again.

The journey home was an ultramarathon of scenery and 90 m.p.h. cruising and hallucinations brought on by the night and monotony. My vehicle might as well have been manned by a the universe itself as it rocketed North, but in this case it was just a determined High Priestess of 200s. Did I mention the Wizard knows how to dance?

 9 mile run in Fairyland at Bryce National Park on the way home
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  1. This makes me miss my crazy late night to early morning don't know what the fuck comes next but everything happens for a fucking reason times. It's been too long since I forgot what a hot shower felt like from being too busy playing. I loved this. I'm so glad you're living the life.

  2. Thanks Diana, and thanks for reading :)


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