There are four seasons in a ski racer’s life: Summer Volume, Fall Intensity, Race Season, and Party Season. The reputation is that Nordies go hard. Certainly we train hard (my biggest weeks this year will be over 30 hours of training, and elite men are doing more), and we absolutely race hard. Those frozen globs of drool and snot on our faces aren’t for show. (Okay, not just for show.) It might not surprise you to hear that Nordies party hard, too.
Race season ends late March, and most athletes start training seriously again around May 1. This leaves a good 5-6 weeks to unwind, rest, and recover. In other words, Party! Rage!
Okay, time to come clean. I’m not actually about to tell you about six weeks of wild escapades of parties and drugs and booze and… shoot, I don’t even know what happens at those parties. I’ve never been to one. Yeah, I’m your typically Nor-Dork. Pretty straight-laced, reasonably innocent. My idea of a good party is a long run followed by an evening barbecue with some folks playing banjos and guitars. Preferably in bed by ten. The point is that however you define Party Season, the time in between the final race and the annual May 1st rollerski date is the time to do it. After 11 months of nearly undivided focus and 4 months of intense racing, everyone needs to cut loose a little bit. Take a break from the training plan, forget intervals for a little bit, travel (or don’t travel; race season is enough travel!), break the diet, stay up late…
I chose to spend my Party Season traveling. The Nomad in me isn’t stoked about being based in one place for almost a whole year (although I’ve spent only about 50% of my time actually in my temporary home base of Bend, Oregon since landing there). I hit the road for about 6 weeks with three goals: see friends, see new places, and train gently.
My itinerary was meandering. From Bend, I drove to Salt Lake City with a friend to meet another friend who drove us in his classic dirtbagging Vanagon to Moab, Utah. We spent a week in Moab and nearby Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Camping in this area is really easy; there’s BLM land just outside of both parks, so if you’re ready to rough it a little bit (no toilets or water) you can camp for free and be really happy. We sure were. Check out our sick sleeping cave!
Turns out classic dirtbagging Vanagons are a little temperamental. We only had one breakdown.
We had several really epic runs, including the 8.5 mile Syncline Loop in the Islands in the Sky district of Canyonlands, which circles a giant crater of unknown origin, a 10 mile run to the overlook of the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers, a tour of the Arches (arch, arch, arch! I’m a seal! Get it??), and a couple jaw-dropping canyon-cruisers. For me, all this running was a really big deal, as I’m a year out from a partially ruptured achilles tendon. I’ve been building up slowly, so this much running was a little risky. I took it a day at a time, and had to take a few days off from running after, but I made it through! Incidentally, I don’t recommend rehabbing an injury in this way. Stay tuned for a forthcoming post on how I do recommend rehabbing an injury!
After Moab, I went north to Idaho and cruised around a little bit in the southern part of the state. I hit Craters of the Moon National Monument on a wild, misty day which really did make me feel like I was on the moon. I spent a week in Jackson, Wyoming visiting a friend and getting acquainted with the public library. When I’m on the road, I get to know a lot of public libraries. I keep up with the athletes I’m coaching, write these blog posts, and write for fun. Quiet journaling time is key for me, and a nice library is a great place for introspection. The one in Jackson is a favorite of mine, as Jackson is becoming a common stopping point for me on my ever-expanding western tours.
In Jackson I enjoyed a couple snowy walks, a ski in the National Forest, a couple warm runs on south-facing trails, a somewhat unsuccessful hot spring adventure (hey, not every adventure can be a smashing success, eh?), and perhaps the highlight, a bike ride in Grand Teton NP which brought us in and out of snow drifts and provided rather spectacular views.
I spent another couple days in Salt Lake visiting a friend from my Alta winter, where I was stoked to hit the Bonneville Shoreline Trail for an early morning run. There’s something special about freezing your butt off in a dark canyon before the sunlight reaches its depths, then climbing up into the sun to find that yes, shorts and a sports bra was the right call after all.
When I left Salt Lake I headed to California. After a truly gorgeous night of camping outside Truckee (free camping on your public lands, folks, hit it up!), I cruised over to Lake Sonoma to watch a friend race an ultramarathon. I must say, every single athlete in that race could have kicked my butt all over the place, so watching the spectacle was a good experience for me. I don’t think of myself as too conceited, but it’s true that I’m aware of my higher-than-average degree of fitness. Not the case at this race, these guys and gals are animals!
Also, the views didn’t suck.
My road trip so far was conspicuously lacking any real city time. Yes, I’d been in and out of Salt Lake, but as I’ve spent some time there before I didn’t feel a strong need to explore. I just hit my favorites and got out of there. I really don’t like driving in cities, having never done it growing up. Boy was I in for a treat… San Francisco! Well, mostly Oakland. But yeah, the hills are steep (not that I can complain, I’m driving an automatic…) the bridges are long (and expensive!) and the traffic is… well, yeah, it’s city traffic. Luckily, a friend much more adept at city life than I drove me around and showed me the highlights. Literally. We drove up really high and looked at views.
I didn’t linger in the city too much, but I was struck by the beauty of the surrounding geography. San Francisco’s hills, coastline, and forests provide spectacular running terrain and scenery, and I made the most of it. It’s eye-opening for me to experience just how much one can enjoy the natural world from a city, as I tend to think of cities as the antithesis to outdoors adventures. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Salt Lake have all impressed me.
Following my stint in Oakland, I was planning to fly to Kauai, Hawaii with my long-time adventure partner Dave. Weather intervened. The night before we were supposed to fly, Dave and I were on the phone discussing the extensive rains and flooding all over the island. Kauai has been a dream destination for me for years. We had an awesome itinerary planned. We discussed the possibility of going and volunteering with recovery efforts. We discussed just sending it and hoping for the best.
Ultimately we decided Kauai was not in the cards. Yes, this is one time trip insurance would have been nice. Though I fly frequently I rarely buy it, the idea being that if I pay a little extra every time and only benefit from it once I will still be out more money. This philosophy still holds for me in general. It’s a personal decision that every traveler must make, but with my track record for sticking to travel plans, I will take the risk and eat the change fee when I have to. (If anyone has thoughts on trip insurance, leave me a comment!)
Dave flew to meet me in Oakland instead, and we hit the road for Northern/Central California. We explored the Lost Coast, named by road-builders who insisted the landscape was inaccessible. We did indeed find that there are two ways to access most of the cool stuff: 4×4 high-clearance vehicles (not a Prius) and walking. Though it was beautiful and serene as it so often is on the ocean, I felt restless. We didn’t have an itinerary, and that rattled me.
I pride myself on having a lifestyle that allows me to be open to last minute changes and opportunities. This one just did not work in my favor. I never really got over the disappointment of not going to Hawaii, and I struggled throughout our California week with a feeling that we didn’t have a purpose. That’s not to say we didn’t do some awesome things.
From the Lost Coast we drove to the Mt. Shasta area, where we had a truly spectacular hike in Castle Crags State Park. There was a small entry fee ($8 because National Parks passes don’t work in state parks). But there was free camping just outside the park, and we found a lovely riverside spot where Dave and I both indulged in a favorite road-tripping activity of ours: outdoor strength workouts! Even in the off-season, it’s important that I don’t get too far away from my normal training routine. I learned when Dave and I lived in his car for two months that I can do a lot with a set of dumbbells and a big rock to jump on.
The two of us have camped in dozens of spectacular spots all over the west, but this one with a sunrise view of Mt. Shasta definitely makes the top 5. Better yet, it is a free dispersed camping site right down the road from an established site with more people and no views. Moral of the story: if you can get off the beaten path, do.
We rounded out the trip in Truckee before Dave headed back to the east coast and I returned to Bend. After 5 weeks of sleeping on the ground, in my car, on couches, and in a Vanagon, eating simple camp-stove meals, and not showering, it was nice to return to modern amenities. As for my goals for the trip (see friends, see new places, and train lightly) I achieved all!
And as for my May 1st rollerski date…
It got cancelled 🙂