Words to live by...

"A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others." ~Author Unknown

"A good wife is her husband's biggest fan -- no matter how crazy he is." ~Me

"May God give you.. For every storm a rainbow, for every tear a smile, for every care a promise and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share, for every sigh a sweet song and an answer for each prayer." ~ Irish Blessing

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dry Eyes

Well, hallelujah!

No crying.

No screaming.

No running out of the room in hysterics...

And the kids did pretty well too!

The first day is down, over, done with.


Let's hope day 2 goes as smoothly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Revisiting Reality

Summer break 2009 is officially over.

And it has been over for more than a week.

As I think back to our wonderful summer, I can't help but feel completely satisfied and happy with all that went on.

The summer began with preparing for, blog-updating for, watching, and generally obsessing over Chris's record-setting Divide race. In the process, I got to both meet and reunite with many cyber-friends from the bike-blogosphere.

After that great adventure, Chris and I embarked on some adventures together.

We hiked five 14ers together...

biked up one...

climbed a rock or two...

learned to flip in the sand...

rode amongst the flowers...

took the best kiddos in the world rock climbing in the gym...

ate some great meals...

and napped some good naps.

Now that I am back to preparing for getting the Kinders, I am trying to carry a bit of my summer experiences into the classroom:

This will get much cuter in the next week with Wish Clouds and pictures of my students pretending to hike up the mountain, connected by a climbing rope made of yarn. Whether it makes any impact on them or not, it is sure to remind me constantly that these kids face challenges every day that pale in comparison to mine. Either way, I have made it a personal goal (yes honey, I have set a goal for myself for once) to keep this class feeling connected to each other and me like a team climbing up the toughest of mountains.

(As a side note, I have also made goals to actually be ORGANIZED -- the only way I foresee not losing my mind amid teaching full time, participating in an extra program at school that requires a lot of additional commitments within the classroom, and attending grad school *full time* by taking six credits -- and PREPARED -- yes, being consistent with my planning certainly slacks as the stress rises.)

I am also looking forward to a Labor Day weekend in Salida riding with the team, a long weekend in the upper throws of Wisconsin for the Chequamegon 40 in about a month (which, at this point, I simply hope to survive well enough to enjoy the rest of the weekend), and hopefully some monthly game nights and hikes with the girls.

Thinking I sound surprisingly ambitious and optimistic considering the kids start on Thursday?
Did I mention my class list currently has 13 students. 13!!!!?????!!!!

Compared to my typical class of 28, I can deal with 13 (even though more will certainly enroll and start a day to several months late).


Reality might not bite so much.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Long overdue

August 6, 2004:

August 6/7, 2009:

Five years of adventures.

I can't even imagine the stories we'll have in another five years.

Love you hubby.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Longs Peak: Some Lessons in Life

Yesterday, Chris and I completed 14er number twenty by climbing Longs Peak.

Longs Peak is one of the few 14ers that is visible and recognizable from almost anywhere in the Denver/Boulder area (you actually see Long's close neighbor Mount Meeker, but the tippy top is Long's summit). It looks huge and out of place.

Since it is so visible and close to Denver, many tourists, Coloradans, climbers, hikers, and old people in sweats alike are drawn to this mountain. By 3 am on any given day the huge parking lot is full and people are parked down the road. 3 am! Eww.

The traditional route on Longs, the Keyhole Route, is classified as class 3 (hiking in Colorado ranges from class 1 -- easy walking -- to class 5 -- where you start to do real rock climbing with ropes). Class 3 is not anything to be taken lightly, yet the most unlikely people seem to make it to the summit of Longs everyday. The length of the hike is no joke either -- the Keyhole route being 15 miles round trip. That's a long day. Hence the full parking lot at 3 am. Did I mention: ewww?

I have been nervous to climb Longs since I first learned about it. The exposure, length, and really early wake-up time made me nervous. The Keyhole Route, despite its thousands of unacclimatized ascenders, sounded bad. Over the last year and a half, I have slowly come to realize that the route itself wouldn't be so terrible -- exposed, maybe, but not anything I couldn't handle. But it would certainly be crowded and relying on other people not to screw up and inadvertently take me down with them is a skill I don't really possess.

If you remember, Chris and I are on a mission to complete all of Colorado's 14ers as a couple. So, no matter how many excuses I could find, I needed to do this mountain. I decided back in May that I needed to do it this summer. I have had enough of seeing the big peak looming in front of me on my commute home from work each day, knowing that it scares me and had thus far gotten the best of me mentally.

So yesterday I found myself waking up to the alarm at 1:15 am. Ewww. Seriously, 1:15. As I got ready in the bathroom I tried to decide whether, since I hated being up at this hour, it makes me an anti-morning-person or an anti-night-person. 1:15 am really qualifies as both. It was early and I can honestly say I was not a terribly pleasant person to be around.

So by 2 am we were loaded in the car and Chris (being quite perky, thus qualifying himself as both a night person and a morning person) drove us up to Rocky Mountain National Park. I felt pretty horrible, dizzy, nauseous, and tired to boot. My current drug of choice, Clomid, leaves me suffering from all sorts of crazy side-effects every month. This month seems to be dizziness. Oh goody.

But, as I said, I've made enough excuses not to do this peak, and I thought that any mention of my crappy feeling would only makes things worse. So I sucked it up and closed my eyes through the twisty, turny road that leads to Longs. Around 3 am we drove through dozens upon dozens of cars parked in the lot and down the road. Chris found us an up front parking space and by 3 we were headed up the trail.

Chris seems to be recovering well from his Tour Divide craziness and I've noticed that his fitness is not only coming back to where it was before he left, it seems nearly out of control. He has been filling his non wife-mandated-rest-days with high altitude adventures. So, needless to say, even at 3 am on a dark morning, he bounded up the Longs trail like a deer. One second I was right behind him and the next had my headlamp shining on nothing but trees.

And other hikers.

We stopped counting when we'd passed 50 other hikers just in the first two hours before the Boulderfield. Amazing. Groups ranging from kids to the elderly. Lightweight hikers to overweight hikers. Gortex to cotton. Ski pants to sweat pants. Headlamps to flashlights. The range of people on the trail really spanned the population. Many of those slower hikers were stopped within the first half mile to catch their breath and rest. I quickly started to realize why many trip reports have people taking upwards of 16 hours to complete this trail.

Chris would stop and wait for me now and then, but I was really poking and he was really flying, and the combination wasn't a good partner hiking experience. Every 14er that we hike gives me times where I get into the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other mentality. At least for a short section. For Longs, I had this from the very beginning. Whether it is the pills or the fatigue from climbing three 14ers in the last two weeks or just that it was "one of those days", I can't be sure.

Then the wind started.

That helped.


It got really windy. Windy enough that the gusts would come and I would have to lean into it on my poles just to keep from being toppled. Honestly, any other mountain and I would've bagged it right there. But two things kept me really motivated: 1) I did not want to have to wake up that early again to climb this peak. Ever. and 2) If the zillions of other hikers could make it up in the conditions, I certainly wasn't going to be the one idiot who turned around and passed them all again on the way back down. I care way too much about what other people think and they'd certainly be laughing on the inside as I walked past them back to the comfort of the car.

So we kept going and eventually we made it to the boulder field as the sun started to rise and my spirits started to lift. I could finally SEE Longs Peak and it is amazing what a little visual motivation can do for your mood. I've heard about the boulder field many many times and it was fun to see it in person. There are a lot of boulders. Quite big ones. We stopped for a bathroom break (yes, there are even bathrooms there somehow) and to eat some cheese danishes. I could stomach about half of one before throwing in the towel. We put on our climbing harnesses and...

climbing harnesses?

Oh yeah. Between being scared to do the class 3 Keyhole route and our actual hike, somehow we decided to climb the old Cables route instead. Class? 5.4. Rock climbing.

I didn't want to just bag this peak, I wanted to be able to give it a big f-you on my way down.

Yeah baby.

Anyway, we put on the harnesses and some extra clothes (ok, all of my extra clothes -- base layer, R1 balaclava hoody, windshirt, down coat, rain pants, two pairs of gloves, hat and 3 layers of hoods -- minus my rain jacket. I was saving that as one last safety piece in case it got even colder, which it eventually did...).

We hiked past the boulder field and to the base of our climb. We boulder hopped for a while before coming to the first of a few snow fields that we needed to cross. When Chris had done this climb previously he crossed these with crampons and ice axes. Neither of us had crampons this time, but we did have the ice axes. Chris went up ahead and kicked and cut steps and I followed in his footsteps. It wasn't so bad for me, since the footsteps were already there, but it was hard work for Chris. And I appreciate that he was willing to do it for me.

Eventually we got to the rock where we had to rope up and climb. Chris would lead, placing a scant amount of gear now and then to protect a fall, then he would find an old eye-bolt and stop to belay me up. This route used to be protected by fixed cables as the main route up Longs. One day someone wised up and took them down, forcing the less experienced to either summit via the Keyhole or not at all. Luckily for us, they left the bolts which made great anchors on the way up and down the route. The climbing wasn't too hard. Except for one major factor: ice.

Yep, July 31st and we were contending with freshly frozen ice on the route.

Verglass to use the fancy word for it.

Essentially, it was a thin layer of ice with water running underneath. So the route was both icy and really wet. Really, really wet. And really, really cold wet. That turned a 5.4 walk in the park into a much more mentally and physically taxing climb for both of us. Pretty soon our gloves and feet were soaked and we were really cold. I added my last precious layer -- the rain jacket. I wouldn't say it helped very much. But at least it added yet another hood to the system. Yep, now I had five hood layers and a climbing helmet on my head.

At one belay station Chris asked me if I wanted to turn around. I told him no. Then he climbed up and I quickly changed my mind. Honestly, if he was within earshot, I would've called him back down and bailed. I was cold, wet, dizzy, nauseous, and cold. Fortunately, he wasn't in ear shot so I bucked up and kept going.

The climbing was remarkably fun. I didn't freak out and I didn't cry... pretty standard protocol for an outdoor climbing experience for me... so this was unusual. I had a lot of fun climbing the route. Despite the wind (it was relentless) and the cloud cover (turns out the sunrise was only a sort of cruel tease as it didn't really show its true beauty and heat until much later), we wanted the summit. We watched the clouds blow on and off the summit at a faster rate than I have ever seen clouds move. At the top of the technical section, Chris coiled the rope, shoved it in his bag, and we did the final rock hopping to the summit.

We made it!

I have heard that the summit is HUGE. That's true. It was pretty flat and big. Amazing. We met an awesome retired couple that had just completed their 54th 14er in 52 days. They rock. We tried to shove down some food, but even Chris had no appetite (gasp!). We took our summit picture and headed back down.

Depending on the minute, the summit view would sometimes look like this:

Sometimes it would look like this:
(Same view!!)

Some rock hopping down got us back to the top eye-bolt and then the fun really started.

Rather than hiking down, which is always a way bigger pain than it sounds, we got to rappel! Yes! Sweeeeeet! Not only that, but we got simul-rappel the route -- meaning we each went down on one side of the rope and rappelled together. I was nervous at first but it was actually a blast.

We rappelled eye-bolt to eye-bolt, did some very interesting down climbing, and were quite quickly back at the snow field. We hiked around it this time, stopping to admire The Diamond (the picturesque huge vertical face on Longs) and some climbers climbing it.

Below: Our route is up to right, up the snow then straight up and left to the summit.

By now we were tired but much perkier. We made the technical summit, safely got down the scary parts, and were pretty close to being back to the nice path leading back to the car. The sun also decided to come out, so we quickly shed layer upon layer upon layer. We smiled, laughed, chatted about nothing, and finally seemed to really let ourselves enjoy the experience.

We stopped in the boulder field to enjoy the view, pack the layers, and eat some Combos and Reeces peanut butter bar (umm, yummm). Our relaxation was short lived as the clouds turned from breezy to building and we knew a thunder/rain storm was eminent. We got our stuff together and started to bust a move back down the trail to the car. When the thunder started rolling when we neared tree-line, our trot turned to a jog and an occasional run. We got wet, but safely back to the car at 3:30 pm on the dot.

13.5 hours after leaving the car.

A LONG day (how appropriate), but an adventure that I'm really proud of and excited that we pulled off.

Sure, altitude probably makes me a little dramatic, but on the way back down I realized that Longs reinforced a few of life's lessons for me:

1) Commitment: I had a lot of excuses to bail but I didn't let them overtake me and I stuck with the plan. Nothing was really physically wrong, there was no eminent danger... my mind was trying to wuss out. I committed to doing this climb and I was going to do it. And I did.

2) Trust: When you are climbing anytime, and especially around 13,500 ft, you have to trust your partner to do what he needs to do safely. When you are rappelling together, you have to trust the other person to not screw up. My one piece of marital advice? Do an activity like climbing where you have to literally put your life in your spouse's hands. That'll teach you to rely on each other in stressful situations.

3) Persistence: If you keep one foot moving in front of the other, eventually you'll get where you want to go. It might not be as pleasant of an experience as you had hoped, but you'll get there. I needed this reminder and I needed it now. This hike refreshed my resolve to keep moving forward in a few frustrating aspects of life that were leaving me drained in so many ways.

4) Laugh at yourself: During a particularly rough down climb on the way back down, I found myself lowering myself down the rock on my belly, shoving my shirts/coats around my neck and my pants and harness up as far as they could go. This was after getting a knee stuck in a crack and taking a few minutes to figure out how to get it out -- only to get it out just as I was about to tell Chris he may have to amputate. As I slid slowly down the rock (holding onto the hold above me), Chris guided my feet down to the next stable footing. I had to laugh. How can you not be in that position and laugh at yourself. Some things are just to ridiculous to pass up.

5) Push past fear: This mountain really scared me. I'm not sure exactly why. Especially now that I've done one of the harder routes in really crappy conditions. But it scared me. When I reached the summit, I found myself tearing up for the first time on a summit. I realized how much this meant to me to pull off. Ah, relief.

Thanks to Chris for another great adventure one week before our 5th wedding anniversary!

(Oh yeah, I did an experiment on the way back down on the merits of hiking poles. The left hand did not ever have a hiking pole, the right hand one the whole time. See the difference? I love my poles!)