Back in Boulder

Biking Flagstaff Pic

My mother turned 52 this month, and she seems to have found the fountain of youth.

For my dad’s tour for his new book, Braving It, our whole family piled into our Toyota van and went on a whirlwind road-trip of the West, kicking off the tour in Boulder, Colorado, my mom’s old stomping ground.

To introduce me to her former home, my mom decided to rent mountain bikes and take me on her favorite Boulder biking route, a relentless, 45-minute climb on steep switchbacks up Flagstaff Road to a point overlooking the Boulder Valley. After living in the car for two days, my legs were stiff and my lungs, at altitude, felt like they had been crushed under the weight of the mountains. But I was not about to refuse the invitation. We made our way to Flagstaff Road, my mom in the lead, pointing out places from her past, reclaiming the town as her own. I struggled to stay in earshot as I huffed and puffed up 6th Street. My mother seemed to be gliding on the thin mountain air, sitting back on her seat, surveying her city.

When we reached the beginning of the ascent, she glanced back, smiled, and took off climbing, her legs taut and strong as she stood up on her pedals and curled over the handlebars. I followed, attempting to keep her in sight as she took the switchbacks seemingly two at a time. Each bend she rounded, she’d hold up her hand and wave like the queen looking down on her subjects. All I could do was grimace. I may have backpacked over the Brooks Range and paddled to the Arctic Ocean, but I was no match for my mother on a bike. There would be more rides over the course of our week in Boulder – Sunshine to Poorman, Old Bill, Lee Hill – and I would get stronger, but it was on this first ride that my mother staked out her territory, letting me know that Colorado was her home long before I entered the world.

Me and Mom in Idaho

Elliot At Altitude

Elliot at Altitude

Move over, Cheryl Strayed. I have a new role model.  Her name is Elliot Singer; she’s 14 years old, writes an amazing blog at Elliot At Altitude, and eats mountains for breakfast.

I’ve known Elliot since I was 11 years old, and if I’ve learned one thing about her over the years, it is that you should never underestimate her. At four foot, eleven inches, and no more than a hundred pounds, it’s hard to imagine this girl doing much damage. That is, until she shakes your hand. She has the kind of iron handshake that could make a grown man tremble.  Her callouses are hard and well-worn, developed over the years from summers spent scaling the Sawtooths, biding her time before she was ready for the high peaks of the Himalayas. This spring, Elliot finally had her chance, and with five-time Everest summiteer Melissa Arnot as her guide, she traveled to the Khumbu Region of Everest to attempt three 20,000 foot peaks. She had been training for the trip for months, waking at 5:00 am to run at the gym, wearing a 20-pound weight vest around the house, and practicing her breathing techniques for the paper-thin air of the high Himalayas.

This trip was a test, not just of her skill as a climber, but of her character. Few teenagers have the patience or the perseverance to be a mountaineer. An ascent of 20,000 feet takes every bit of physical and emotional strength you have, and, sometimes, you don’t even get the reward of reaching the summit. But Elliot is a quick study.  In the Khumbu capital of Namche Bazaar, the gateway to the high Himalayas, Elliot discovered the value of being “chill,” of entering into a meditative state in which you prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and settle for something in the middle.  Armed with Bob Marley and a pocket full of Coconut Crunchies, she successfully summited Island Peak, slept 20,000 feet atop Lobuche Peak, and entered into the unknown territory of Kyajo Ri. With each ascent, she set the bar higher, proving again and again that she is absolutely fearless, one of the grittiest gals I know.

Recently, when faced with my own small challenges, I have started to ask myself a question, “What would Elliot do?”

Elliot, I don’t know what the future holds for you, but after standing at the summit of a 20,000-foot mountain, the sky is truly the limit.

Gritty Gals Are Gutsy Girls

I recently learned that I was included in Caroline Paul’s book, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, a collection of stories and tips from Paul and other female adventurers throughout history. I am honored to be a part of the Gutsy Girl club! Here is the link for those interested: http://www.amazon.com/Gutsy-Girl-Escapades-Your-Adventure/dp/1632861232/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458930694&sr=8-1&keywords=the+gutsy+girl+escapades+for+your+life+of+epic+adventure

 

Grrrr—it

 

100_1040

Near the top of the globe, at the slipping edge of Alaska, on the southern coast of the Arctic Ocean is a small barrier island called Arey.  It is nothing more than a six-mile-long scrap of land pounded by whitecaps crashing in from the open water. The island is entirely bare; the only evidence of life, the birds overhead and the dinosaur-sized polar bear tracks pressed into the sand. Yet, the thought of this island was what I imagined every day as I paddled down the Hulahula River, shivering from a core-deep cold, the bill on the hood of my raincoat pulled down to shield  my face from the stinging shards of sleet.

When we were backpacking over the Brooks Range, and all I wanted to do was be rid of my sixty-pound pack and throw it into a ravine, I dreamed about being on the river—and this island.  But when I got to the Hulahula, I discovered that the river was sometimes dangerous and always demanding. Each morning, before packing up camp, I’d pull on my cold, damp clothes and rub my hands together to get the blood circulating. Then, I’d take down the tent, pack up our gear, and load the dry bags into the canoe. Three hours later, we’d finally push off and then for the next 20 miles battle the river’s rapids and the biting wind to the coast. 

After 14 days on the river, when we’d finally reached Arey Island, I waded to the edge of the Arctic Ocean and gathered snail shells, thinking I’d soon be going home. But, then the winds blew up, and we were stranded for another three days. The cold on Arey was worse than anything I’d imagined. The non-stop winds came straight off the North Pole and cut threw everything – our tent, my clothes, and the driftwood shelters we’d erected. We even built bonfires, but still it was impossible for me to get warm. Sometimes, I felt like there was no end to it.

When I tell people about our trip, they often ask me how I managed it, physically and mentally. The word that always came to mind was Grit.

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist and educator, popularized the word with her TED talk. Grit, she said, is the single best predictor of success in life. She got the word from the John Wayne western True Grit, in which a girl hires a gruff, one-eyed, alcoholic sheriff to hunt down her father’s murderer. Despite her age and gender, the girl refuses to let the sheriff go alone and against all odds, sets out with him to take on the rugged west. This, Angela Duckworth points out, is what grit is about: “passion and determination” for long-term goals. While most people seek immediate gratification, with grit there often is no “aha” moment, just hard work and a long wait.

I found grit in Alaska, but you don’t need Alaska to get grit. Grit is the mile runner who guts it out in the last 200 meters; it is the stutterer who returns to the classroom everyday despite being teased; it is the farm kid who trudges to the barn every morning before school; it is the dyslexic who finishes all seven Harry Potter books; it is the girl who trains to make the high school football team; it is the boy who shovels snow all winter and mows lawns all summer to pay for college.

Grit sounds like what it means — a mixture of purpose and perseverance. Grrrr—it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA