Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Yosemite by the Seasons

Upon entering Yosemite National Park for the first time, I strongly suggest that you make certain someone else is behind the wheel of the car. Otherwise, when you are staring out the window in slack-jawed wonderment at the surrounding grandeur, you will become a serious hazard of the road. Yes, it really is that awesome.

It's hard to say exactly when my love affair with this park began. Perhaps it was in college, during a winter-time visit. Perhaps it was when I walked through the high country on the PCT. I think, truly, it wasn't until making the Sierra Nevada my home and bringing my husband to Yosemite for the first time, that I began to make pilgrimages in earnest. You can bet, when I brought him there, that I made certain he wasn't behind the wheel of the car.

This place has become many things to me. A place for family and friends, for pushing limits, for reflection, for relaxation, excitement, exploration and learning. It's a place where I can be myself, know exactly who I am, and yet still question and explore that knowledge. There, I have existed at times in fear, and at times with overwhelming confidence. I have been both leader and follower. And, I have found myself physically shaken, so overcome by the surrounding beauty that I am afflicted simultaneously with both laughter and tears.

It occurred to me recently that I've visited Yosemite during every season, and that each one has something unique to offer. Believe it or not, Yosemite is not all about summer. So I offer you here an exploration, mostly in photos since my words can do little justice to this kind of beauty, of the park in each of the four seasons. My own Yosemite.


Defined by the roaring waterfalls, and the ephemerals that visit these months, spring in Yosemite can be summarized as glorious. Snowmelt swells the river, and flowers coat the valley floor, finding homes in every tiny crack of granite on the cliff face. Life springs up everywhere.

The less pleasant aspects of this can include swarms of mosquitoes. But the high country snow provides a magnificent backdrop for emerging trails in the valley and higher up on the rim.

Backpacking on the rim, May 2004

Roaring Upper Yosemite Falls, June 2007


Like most other visitors, summer marks the majority of my time spent in the Valley. Every year in June, my family gathers here for a week of frivolity. And I mean family with a capital "F." We have husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and any friends deemed cool enough to appreciate the adventure (and tolerant enough to put up with us).

Andrew and I generally drive in through the eastside, camp near Mono Lake, then drive in over Tioga and through Tuolumne Meadows. It provides a spectacular start to the week.

Sky over Mono Lake, June 2009

The centerpiece to our family week is the nightly picnic, where twenty to thirty of us gather each evening. Betsy is the queen of the picnics, and she organizes everything months in advance. We all know what we're supposed to bring, and the nightly potluck is a feast to behold.

This is family time - a chance to socialize with people we don't see nearly enough. This is relaxation time - eating in the shade, sipping wine, after a long day in the sun. We share our day's adventures and plan tomorrow's. The brilliance of the picnics is that we get to see everyone in the evenings, while doing our own thing in smaller groups during the day.

Sister, Mom and me at the picnic grounds, June 2009

Introductions, and giving thanks before the meal, June 2009

Let the feasting begin! June, 2009

Of course, one of the most popular activities for everyone is hiking, but Andrew and I have a few traditional favorites that we seem to stick to as well.

For instance, if you happen to be a trail runner, Yosemite is a Cheesecake-Factory-sized slice of heaven.

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, June 2008

You can run up to the top of Yosemite Falls and back before anyone else has even finished their morning coffee. What is a strenuous, all-day hike for many, is to the trail runner merely a beautiful way to start the day.

Upper Yosemite Falls, June 2008

If, however, you also happen to be an ultra-runner, the trails take on an entirely new meaning. You can cover in one day, a route that many would consider to be a multi-day backpacking trip. One of the most incredible runs I've ever experienced was done in 2008, during one of these family trips. From Yosemite lodge, I ran up the mist trail, past the turn-off to Half Dome, over Cloud's Rest, and to Tenaya Lake. If I've ever talked to you about Yosemite, I definitely told you about this run.

Yosemite Valley from the top of Cloud's Rest, June 2008

With an early start, the trails were nearly empty, and I ran through 27 miles of jaw-dropping grandeur alone. Alone and in love with the landscape around me.

The Yosemite high country from the top of Cloud's Rest. You can see my destination in the distance, Tenaya Lake.

Of course, completing a one-way epic like this also requires that you have an awesome spouse willing to take a few hours out of his Yosemite vacation to come pick you up and take you for burgers and milk shakes at the Tuolumne Meadows Store. (I just so happen to have one of those!)

Tenaya Lake

And how could two people who met as climbing guides possibly go to Yosemite Valley without rock climbing. Even on years when we're not climbing hard (most years, lately, for me), the trip has to include some rock climbing. We're mostly into the medium to long, mellow routes. The climbing is golden no matter what your level. There's a reason this place is the Mecca for climbers the world over.

Andrew insisted that his first time to the summit of Half Dome would not be via the cables. Of course it wouldn't be! We rose at 3:30 am that year to be the first ones on Snake Dike (8 pitches, 5.7R). It's still my best day ever on Half Dome.

Descent from "Royal Arches" (16 pitches, 5.7 A0), June 2007

Rapping off Cathedral Peak (5 pitches, 5.6), July 2001

Belaying on "After Six" (6 pitches, 5.7), June 2009

One activity we usually do as a whole group is the float down the Merced River. Sun-bathing was never so good.

And what is Andrew looking at so intently through this telescope?

Climbers on El Cap, of course! Being total geeks, we like to check out who's on what route. You can always spot a few "rock stars," like Dean Potter and Beth Rodden, in the Valley.

Another important aspect to a successful summer trip in the Valley is transportation. Bikes are the only way to get around the Valley this time of the year! Forget the valley shuttle. Ride your bike!

Riding back to the lodge from the picnic, across the meadow in the evening light, is another of those quintessential Yosemite experiences. Last year, I made it my goal to learn to ride my bike with no hands. Andrew, blessed with much more talent in the balance and coordination arena, thought this was pretty amusing. Nonetheless, he guided me on my quest, and each evening we practiced rolling down the bike path, sitting up, and throwing our arms wide, triumphant. There's no place better to explore small, childhood dreams than at dusk, with your husband, in Yosemite Valley.

And in that same vein of exploration, I have another tradition for these June excursions. I always take one of the free art classes offered at the Art Activity Center. They have amazing guest artists teaching these classes, and most of them are water colors - the only medium in which I've ever dabbled. I'm no artist. But the thing is, I don't pretend to be. And that's the beauty of it for me. This is generally the only time of year that I try my hand with a paint brush, and I have no expectations for myself whatsoever. I am merely a child at play. Dauntless.

Every year I tell myself that I am going to choose a new subject to paint, but every year the same one finds its way on to my paper. I can't escape the draw of Yosemite Falls.


Autumn in the Valley is a new world to the visitor used to the crowds of summer. The waterfalls are quieter. The trails are quieter. Even the guests themselves seem a bit more subdued, their voices quelled by the soft beauty of Autumn.

This past November, I had the joy of escorting my 5th and 6th grade students on a field trip with the Yosemite Institute. Introducing my students to the park was the highlight of my school year so far.

Having lunch with my own class in a setting like this gave way to questions such as, "Am I really getting paid to do this?" and, "Aren't we part of the coolest school ever?" Somehow, though, it doesn't surprise me that I would wind up at a school that already had this field trip planned before I'd even been hired.

The weather changes quickly in the fall. Storms roll in, wrapping the mountains in a wraith-like shroud, giving the feeling that the change in seasons has already occurred.

And although the waterfalls may be diminished, the still waters of the Merced can give us two of them at once.


Winter in Yosemite is like a whisper. A sheath of snow hushes the landscape, and most places are completely absent of people. This is when the magic of the park can overwhelm you.

When there's enough snow, skiing across the Valley floor is not to be missed. With roads left unplowed, the everpresent summer traffic is vanished. You may wonder where Yosemite Falls went, but you won't really care.

Andrew points out Yosemite Falls, in case you missed it. January, 2008

Music is another love that seems to find me in Yosemite, or perhaps I just seem to find that everywhere. I've seen some of my favorite musicians in and around the Valley, and an impromptu sing-along is never a bad thing in my world.

Here I am on stage at the Evergreen Lodge with a few like-minded friends, backed up by our boys from Hot Buttered Rum. Yes, that's me with a mic in my hand, and no, I can't sing at all. (But I would never let that stop me from having a good time!)

And this was the scene just last week at the Ostrander Hut. Here's a potential description of a perfect day for me: Run all afternoon with good friends across the Yosemite snow, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, ears filled only with the sound of your own pounding heart, to arrive at your home for the night - a small, historical hut in the back country - and find a warm fire, bread in the oven and a bevy of skiers with guitar, banjo, and fiddle in hand. The only thing making it better was the extra guitar sitting there, finding its way into my hands. Did I mention that I love a sing-along?

Life doesn't get much better. Overhanging rock, Glacier Point. February, 2010.

I met up with Meghan and Bryon for three blissful days of running/snowshoeing/fastpacking (whatever you want to call it) hut-to-hut through the wilds of Yosemite. Saturday, we found ourselves enshrouded in the end of a winter storm at Glacier Point. At a curve in the trail we paused, and, like a premonition, we all sensed the lifting of the clouds before it actually happened.

A gift of Yosemite, we stood there for at least 45 minutes watching the show. The clouds danced around us, teasing with glimpses of blue sky, a shoulder of a cliff. The sounds of Vernal and Nevada Falls murmured up through the mist, unseen.

Our patience was rewarded, as it somehow always is in Yosemite. It just seems to be a place where all the best things come together.

Nathan Winner!

Another February day in Tahoe! Last Tuesday, Andrew, Cap and I toured out to Castle Peak to get in a few turns in the backcountry. It was like summer out there. In continued celebration of daily adventures (and out Nathan winner, announced below), here are a couple of pictures from the day.

Climbing up toward Castle Peak.

Ripping the skins in preparation for the ride down.

Lunch break with Cap.

And thanks to everyone for participating in my Nathan giveaway! I really enjoyed hearing about everyone's runs. You guys are all out there gettin' it! Very cool.

So, the Nathan HPL winner: The Dude! "You know, sometimes there's a man, and well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And I'm talkin' about The Dude here." I sent you an email, Dude. Send me your address!

Monday, February 15, 2010

100 Daily Adventures and Nathan Giveaway

We've reached a milestone in the life of my blog. This post marks my hundredth here at Daily Adventures. It's time to celebrate with a Nathan hydration vest giveaway! But first, a little more about Daily Adventures...

I started this blog back in 2006 mostly as a way to keep myself motivated to write. I used to be an avid journaler, but I hadn't journaled in years. It simply wasn't interesting anymore to write for myself. I needed an audience.

Like many of you, the first blog I discovered, and the one that inspired me to start my own blog, was Scott's "A Trail Runner's Blog." It's still the one I look to as a model when making decisions about my own blog, and I've learned a lot from Scott. (That could be another blog post: What I learned from "A Trail Runner's Blog." I like it! I bet a lot of people would contribute. Hmm...)

Blogging turned out to be a wonderful decision. I love the structure and format it provides for my writing, and I get to write about my favorite topic: running! Mostly though, I love how it has connected me to the running community. It's important in this world to seek out like-minded individuals, and I have found many here in the running blogosphere. I've made so many friends, and some of you have even crossed over into "real life" friends. Make no mistake, these friendships and connections have been the biggest reward from blogging.

The title, Daily Adventures, is still one that I like. I do love adventures in life, because we learn so much from them. However, this title was never meant to say that we should all feel pressured to have adventures every day, and if we don't, then we are living a life less full. It's more about perspective. Big adventures are awesome, but we can't have them all the time. Instead, we should recognize, and appreciate, the little adventures of daily life: walking the dog on a new trail to discover a new view, getting lost on a run and finding your way home again, meeting new friends, discovering a new recipe, learning a new skill, taking a beautiful picture, winning (or losing) an argument, riding a bike with your son/daughter/nephew/sister/husband, teaching someone something, reading an enthralling book, whatever!

So, in honor of the idea of small, daily adventures, I want to hear about your favorite daily run. You don't have to write much, just a line or two about where it is and what you like about it. I'm giving away a lightly used Nathan HPL 020 (provided by the Wilderness Running Company for a review) to one lucky commenter! It's not about how awesome your run is, or the eloquence of what you say. Just make a comment about it! I'll draw a name from all the comments and announce the winner on Sunday. I'm going to go ahead and say this giveaway is open to anyone, anywhere in the world, not just the US and Canada. I figure if I really have any readers in, like, Kazakhstan, then I can celebrate that by springing for some extra postage.

So, I'll go first. (Don't take mine as an example for length. I suck at brevity.)

My favorite daily run is The Back Loop, also known as just The Loop. It's 2-4 miles on trail, depending on where you decide to turn. I love it because I can reach the beginning from my back door. I don't have to step a foot on pavement for this one. I don't have to get in the car and drive anywhere. I don't even need leashes for the dogs. We just go.

It offers forested trails (some single-track and some wider), and occasional views. This time of year, it's a little snowy. If it's early in the day, I can run it with just Yaktrax on my running shoes. When the snow softens up in the afternoon, it calls for snowshoes. In the summer, it's the perfect, smooth path of crushed pine needles, with a few hills, and a number of fun logs for steepling.

Here are some pictures from Friday's run with Gus on The Loop.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Discipline, Dreams and the Benefits of Failure

Perhaps, as faithful readers, you may recall a post from about this time last year—a post in which I declared my intent to write a book. First, I’d like to thank all of you for not asking how it’s going. Seriously.

Writing actually went reasonably well through the spring, although I would not say I was exactly flying through the pages. Then summer hit, and just when you’d think a teacher would have plenty of time for things like writing, it all seemed to disappear. (Time, that is.) Then, in August, my computer crashed, and all of my characters and plots and themes remained incarcerated inside a broken hard drive until just last week.

While they’re all celebrating the reappearance of their freedom in my new laptop, I have suddenly found myself without excuse for my continued shunning of their existence. There’s no reason not to keep writing now. Uh oh.

One of the things I have done during the last year, in an attempt to learn exactly how one does go about writing a novel, is to explore the world of author and writing blogs. I discovered that there are endless blogs out there about writing and publishing, and many of them are quite excellent. I adore reading these blogs! I have wondered in fact, if I don’t like reading about writing better than the actual act of writing itself.

One of the blogs I frequent is by author Alan Gratz, and I was recently quite taken with his post about “Goals, Discipline and Dr. Who.” Goals are something I can dwell on for endless hours, and discipline is a trait that I sorely lack but constantly strive to develop. (I know nothing at all about Dr. Who, but that turned out to be fairly inconsequential in terms of grasping the meat of the blog post.)

The biggest point I got from Alan’s post was something with which I closely identify. I have so many goals and plans for my life, that I have a hard time sticking to just a few and seeing them through. I am the queen of a million unfinished projects. Whether it’s knitting projects, new guitar songs, plans for the house, or the half-written writing pieces littering the folders on my computer, I think I have adult-onset ADD.

Alan shared his tips for narrowing his own goals, then having the discipline to stick with them. When he does school visits, he tells the kids to just “finish something.” And that, my friends, is exactly what I struggle with: finishing.

You may think this is silly. You may think I am this terribly disciplined ultrarunner. I’ll tell you a secret though: I am a lazy, undisciplined ultrarunner. I never run more than 65 miles a week, and I don’t even reach that distance for very many weeks in a row. I have no compunction about changing, or even cutting, a workout if need be. (I like to think of myself as “flexible,” but I'm pretty sure my high school guidance counselor termed it “undisciplined.”) Still, running is the one area where I feel relatively satisfied with the goals I set and achieve. It’s the rest of my life where I tend to run an inch deep and a mile wide.

Alan went on to share his actual goals for the next five years. I am not nearly so brave, but I will tell you that after reading his post, I do have big plans to finish something. I know that perhaps some things have to give, if I want to have real success at anything. The hard part will be deciding what exactly has to give, and then letting it go. (I’m thinking laundry and dishes should be first. I can totally let those go.)

It was shortly after these revelations that I came upon Andrew in our living room, watching a video online of an attractive woman with a British accent.

“Ooh,” my eyes widened, “J.K. Rowling!” I immediately snuggled in next to him on the sofa to watch.

She was giving the commencement address to the graduating class of 2008 at Harvard University. I wonder if it was perhaps my state-of-mind at that particular moment, but I felt quite certain that she was not, in fact, speaking to several hundred bright, well-educated 21-year-olds, but rather that she was looking out through the computer screen and speaking directly to me. From me, her words evoked both tears and laughter while I sat mesmerized, listening. And this seems to be typical of our relationship. She reaffirmed my faith in her total brilliance.

The title of her speech was “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” If you watch the video below (which I strongly encourage you to do—it’s 20 minutes, but so worth your time!) you’ll see exactly how her words relate to my own thoughts here. In case you don’t have time to watch it, here is a quote from her speech that discusses one of its two central themes:

"So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default."

Jo Rowling found the discipline to focus on her life’s work after everything else had been stripped away. It gave her the clarity to see who she truly was.

I certainly hope that I will not have to experience her level of failure in order to achieve my goals in life, although, I don’t actually aspire to achieve her level of success either. I have to agree though, that living too cautiously is failure by default.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

When I sat down last week, for the first time in six months, to read through the progress of my novel to date, I experienced a small surprise: It wasn't the complete and utter tripe I had recalled it to be! Of course, it was far from good, and I am still at the beginning, but there's potential there. Actual potential.

I am truly struggling with the idea of letting some dreams go so that I can focus on, and perhaps achieve, others--how to stop pretending to myself that I am something other than what I truly am. We'll see how this all plays out.

What about you? Do you have a few, focused goals, or a wide array? How do you discipline yourself to achieve the ones that are most important?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Recofit Compression Calf Tights Review

If you’ve looked around the starting line at a race recently, you’ve probably noticed at least a few people running around in what appear to be funny-looking knee-socks. These are not merely runner-fashionistas. No! They are runner-fashionistas with very practical, performance-enhancing, recovery-aiding, compression tights.

Apparently compression technology in clothing has been around for quite some time. This was news to me, as I had never heard of it until last year. The idea that a piece of clothing could aid in recovery from an athletic event seemed laughable to me. A number of my friends and family are in the medical field though, and they all met the concept of compression clothing as a well-known fact.

“Yes,” said one doctor, “a little vaso-return could certainly help your muscles recover.”

Vaso-return? What the heck was that? So, I decided a little more investigation was called for.

The system of veins, valves and muscles in your calf and foot are sometimes referred to as the “second heart.” They work together to return de-oxygenated blood to the heart and lungs. As the muscles contract, the veins are squeezed and blood is pumped upward. The valves prevent the blood from going back down toward the foot. I actually found all of this to be quite fascinating.

Compression tights have what is called graduated compression. They are tighter at the bottom, on the foot and ankle, and gradually looser as they go up the leg. The tights act similarly to the muscles, compressing veins even while the legs are at rest, and helping to return blood to the heart and lungs.

As my friends indicated, and a little internet research immediately confirmed, compression tights/hose have been at use in the medical industry for years. They are recommended for minor to serious leg swelling in order to help prevent deep vein thrombosis. They are worn by post-op patients, pregnant women and many people who just spend a lot of time on their feet. Hmm, time on their feet? The benefits to the ultrarunner were becoming quite obvious to me at this point.

I thought of it this way: What do we do when treating minor injuries? RICE, right? (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) And don’t we do these things as well to aid recovery, even if uninjured? I know I’m a fan of putting my feet up the wall for 20 minutes or more after a long run. If I was smart, I’d climb into a bathtub full of ice after a pounding workout, like many of you do. (I do this occasionally, but it takes WAY more self-discipline than I normally have.) And I’ve certainly been known to engage in the “rest” portion of the equation quite happily. So why not compression as a recovery aid too, right?

Elevation + Compression = Recovery!

The RecoFIT (which stands for Recovery Fitness) line was developed by Bolder, CO runner Susan Eastman Walton as an answer to her own shin splints and aches endured from running. As she puts it, “RecoFIT Compression Components are the result of whining, and I’m the whiner!” They offer calf sleeves and arm sleeves, and I was lucky enough to test out a pair of the calf sleeves.

The calf tights feature a gradient compression and Resistex carbon yarn. I had to look up Resistex myself to find out what that was all about, and the product website gave some intriguing information. Resistex carbon yarn is a continuous filament made of conductive material based on active carbon and textile fibers. The fibers have an antistatic and dissipative effect and protect from electrical interference. Is this helpful for an athlete or a person in general? I’m really not sure. But, here’s where it gets really interesting: The Resistex site also claims results from athlete-testing with the fabric show a lower temperature variation in the body, a decreased oxygen need, lower respiratory rate, lower heart rate, and decreased lactic acid concentration. So, there you go.

Miracle fabrics or not, I found that I loved my RecoFit calf sleeves! They have a wide range of sizes so that you can get an accurate fit. They are left and right specific for maximum compression benefit, and the flatlock seams don’t rub.

I mostly wore them after long runs or races to aid in recovery. I found they were so comfortable that I not only enjoyed wearing them, but I happily slept in them at night. (My husband thought this was weird, but I’ve long since gotten used to his quizzical responses to my behavior.) It sounds silly, I know, but I sort of felt like I was getting a gentle hug on my legs. Very comforting.

I finally decided to wear them in a race when it was time to hit the roads. I hadn’t done much road running all season, so I put these on for the Lake Tahoe Marathon in hopes of staving off some of the pounding that roads always put on my legs. They turned out to be the subject of much conversation during the race. (So, ladies, if you’re looking for an excuse to talk to the cute runner next to you, you might consider wearing some of these to your next race.) It seemed like everyone had a comment or question about them! The best feedback I could give fellow runners during the race was that they made me feel “springy.” And in case you’re unsure, I can tell you that springy is great way to feel in a road marathon!

I definitely felt good in these both during and after the race. I couldn’t really come up with any scientific way to determine how much they aided in recovery, but I can tell you that I loved wearing them and I definitely felt like they helped ease some of the seemingly-permanent knots in my calves. I didn’t have any soreness after the marathon. I also wore them during the Helen Klein 50M (which is all paved), and a number of days following the race in order to help recovery.

Crossing the line in RecoFITs at Helen Klein 50

Something else I found to be impressive was the versatility of the fabric. They added warmth on cold days, but they never made me feel overheated while running on hot days. They fit well, and since they were sleeves instead of socks, I could wear my preferred socks while running.

As you may have realized, I have become a compression clothing convert. I think the calf sleeves probably offer the most versatility (over compression socks or full-length tights), but I see the benefits of all these components for runners or other athletes. Since they aid in recovery, I can especially see the benefit for stage-races, or anyone doing multiple races close together. If you haven’t tried compression sleeves yet, I strongly suggest giving them a shot!

Product generously provided by Wilderness Running Company