Friendship is a wonderful thing.

There is only one deeply unsatisfying aspect of life in Craftsbury, Vermont, and it is the lack of social opportunities. To put is bluntly, I have no friends. Sure, I have my teammates, who are great, but we spend pretty much every hour of every day together, and sometimes we get on each others’ nerves. We share so much that there are some things we can’t share.

Some people would find this admission surprising, since I have a reputation as a self-sufficient recluse. But I miss having friends, darnit.

Luckily, this year two of my dear friends from Colorado have come to visit me. I say that they are from Colorado, but they aren’t, really; that’s just where I met them. We were all summer people, woven into the community even though we’d head back to our respective homes when September rolled around.

Laura Rolfe was my cabin-mate the first summer I lived in Colorado. We had a tiny mining shack to ourselves: one room downstairs, with a kitchen and a bed, and half a room upstairs. The refrigerator was in the entry-way, we caught a million mice, and we even had a bat fly around at night one time. It was an amazing summer.

Both Laura and I (we’re on the right in this picture) returned to Gothic the following summer, but then she left for California and spent the next three years caring for her aging grandfather. I meanwhile went about my self-absorbed, busy college life, and then my self-absorbed, isolated life as an athlete.

This fall, Laura was preparing to move to Hawaii and decided to do a road trip across the country to see all her friends before she left. Amazingly, I was able to convince her to take a detour almost all the way to Canada to come visit me in northern Vermont. This was a big training week for me, so I was afraid I was going to be a terrible host – tired, boring, busy – but I was so excited to see her anyway.

Laura arrived on Monday night and we whipped up a simple dinner: fresh pasta with garlicky salmon and spinach, topped with goat cheese, and a side of warm baguettes. We had a lot of catching up to do, because we hadn’t even really stayed in touch over the last few years. I told Laura about life as a skier, the pros and cons of living in the middle of nowhere, and how I spent my spring break, and she told me about nursing, her new boyfriend, and all of the friends she’d seen so far on her road trip.

I had to rollerski the next morning, but we spent the afternoon walking around the Center. I showed her the bread oven, the compost shed, the new solar panels, and the boathouse. We sat on the dock and enjoyed the calm surrounding the lake. I worried that I was being boring, but Laura soaked up the atmosphere and didn’t seem to mind. Craftsbury is a good place for contemplation, and it was a beautiful fall day.

After that we watched the other girls do a biathlon workout, tried shooting some guns, and sat around and talked more.

It was so good to see her and catch up. Our lives are so different now. Laura is moving to Hawaii! She really is. I’m so excited for her. But it means that we won’t be able to see each other for another long time. And this is sad. Laura is the one who taught me all sorts of amazing things. She showed me how to make an envelope out of a picture in a magazine. She gave me what is still my favorite collection of folksy music. She drank tea with me every night and played gin rummy. She did my makeup for Gothic prom that one time. Laura taught me a lot; she is a great friend, a wonderful person, and I think she taught me how to be more of those things, too.

Thanks for coming to visit, Laura. I may have seemed subdued, but that’s what life gives me these days. Seeing you meant the world to me.

Wood.

The good ol’ MacBook is back in working order, which means good things for my blogging capacity. I also have a million e-mails to catch up on, an article to write for the Valley News, a press release for the Outdoor Center, and am basically swamped with computer-centric tasks that I had been able to avoid for a week.

And what a blissful week it was. After our rollerski intervals on Saturday morning, I hopped in the car and headed home to Lyme. My dad was at work and my mom was out brush-hogging, so I started by making some pesto. And by some pesto, I mean that it will take my parents at least a year to eat all the pesto that I stuck in their freezer. By the end of the exercise I had run completely out of pine nuts, almonds, and parmesan cheese, but the kitchen smelled amazing.

I spent the rest of the weekend, and all of Monday, working outside. My parents are busy people and although they spend every weekend working on their land, when you have 100 acres it’s hard to keep up with everything you need to do. On Sunday, we all worked together, clearing logs out of the blueberry field so that Mom could do more brush-hogging, and then cutting up and moving sections of a large tree that had blown over onto another tree in one of the upper fields. Along the way I got in several fights with raspberry bushes, climbed a tree to help attach a tow-rope to pull it down with, and got diverted picking crabapples and fox-grapes for jelly.

On Monday I was left on my own to fill the woodshed for winter. While this sounds simple, it actually wasn’t, and took me all day. First, the leftover wood from last season had to be taken out of the woodshed so that if could be stacked in the front. Then, I had to move the new wood from the summer “drying” woodshed in the garden to the winter woodshed by the house. This meant stacking it in a small trailer, pulling it across the lawn and the driveway with the lawn tractor, tossing it over the split-rail fence, and then stacking it in the woodshed. One I had filled the back row with new wood, I stacked the older, drier wood in one half of the front row.

It was a lot of wood to stack. That was the only thing I did all day, stack and move wood.

Most people would consider this very boring. A number of my friends told me that didn’t sound fun at all. And sometimes, I would probably agree with them. But it was a beautiful weekend to be outside, no matter what you were doing. Fall is coming to New England, slowly but surely, and the days were blustery and blue. I wasn’t distracted by e-mail, work, or training; I was just outside, tossing wood around. I found a rhythm and was happy to stay in it. There is a zen to manual labor, especially if you don’t do it all the time.

As I said, sometimes I would hate this sort of an existence. But it was what I needed at this moment in time, to disconnect from everything that had been worrying me or stressing me out, even subconsciously.

Now it’s back to the daily grind of rollerskiing, working in the office, and having to be on a schedule. I miss home and wish I was still stacking wood.

A fun, blustery day on the Long Trail north.

Our team suffers from a certain lack of adventurousness in our training, I would say. We rollerski in approximately three places; every once in a while, we’ll venture out for a longer point-to-point, but this happens literally three or four times a year. If we need to do a long run/hike, we go to Stowe and Mount Mansfield. We do the same running workouts around the ski trails or around the lake every week.

So many times, one of us (or even two of us) have wanted to go somewhere new, but the rest of the team, tired from a long week of training already, has argued that it’s too much of a drive, too much of a hassle. I’ve been on both sides of this argument.

Every once in a while, though, we break out of the mold. Today Lauren and I decided that, goshdarnit, we were going to explore the Long Trail going over Jay Peak. It would have been easier to do with support, and with an extra car to make a point-to-point, but no matter; we were going to go anyway, even if it was just a self-supported out-and-back. We were aiming for 3 to 3 1/2 hours of running and hiking.

And so after a 7 a.m. breakfast at the Outdoor Center – French toast, bacon, yogurt with raspberries and dried fruit on top, cantaloupe, tea – we set out in the silver 4Runner, northbound.

When we arrived at the Long Trail crossing on Route 242, it had turned blustery. I was nervous that it was going to be a long, cold hike. But after only 5 minutes of jogging, we were plenty warm and shed our long-sleeve shirts. I was impressed with the trail – while there were certainly some steep, rocky sections, much of it was a nice, dirt path, and the grade was gradual enough that we were able to run in many places. As we rose higher on the mountain, we were able to look south over Green Mountains.

All of a sudden, the trail entered a giant rockpile with two snowmaking pipes on top. After scrambling over this odd collection of items, we were dumped out onto a ski trail, where we could look East towards Jay as well.

We were immediately pummeled by the wind, but we took a few pictures before putting our long-sleeves back on. I think my favorite part about the landscape was the combination of dying yellow grass and fading wooden snowfence. Many alpine ski trails (ahem Stowe, I’m looking at you) are covered in taller plants which need to be bushwhacked. These trails were just soft, billowy grass. With the gray clouds overhead, I felt like I was in northern Britain or something. Or something.

After appreciating the scenery, we crossed the trail and scrambled along the white-blazed rocks that would lead us to the summit.

The wind up here was even stronger. We felt a bit like we might blow away. Or at the very least, our hats might blow right off of our heads. At the summit, clouds seemed to be flying by and there was barely a view. We hurried down, past the summit lodge and back onto the alpine trails, and began to head down the north side of the mountain.

After the trail went back into the woods for a short period, it popped back onto the ski trail briefly, and this is where our adventure began to get strange. There were two trails heading into the woods. Neither showed any evidence of white blazes. We ventured down the ski trail a bit further, but became convinced that this was the wrong move. The first unblazed trail ended at a small pond 100 feet into the woods. The second, well, it was covered in orange tape and warning signs: ski area boundary.

Then the signs got bizarre.

Huh?

The next sign was special, too:

It’s not just the photo…. 95% of the writing had disappeared from the sign. But as best as we could tell, it said, “This is the place that if people get lost they spend the night outside. Is it worth it?”

I felt a little bit like we were in some horror movie: Long Trail Gone Wrong. To make matters worse, the white blazes were very few and extremely far between. We still weren’t completely sure if we were even on the Long Trail or some other weird side spur. But we continued on down the side of the mountain and eventually made it to a shelter, where we saw some other hikers. We knew we were in the right place.

On our way down, Lauren had really slipped on some wet rock and kind of tore up her leg. We both began to trip more. Oops, it turns out we were both really tired! How did that happen? Well, a long week of training, not quite enough sleep, and yesterday when we were supposed to have the afternoon off after a glycogen depletion workout, I had gone down to Stowe and hiked Mount Mansfield with the rowers. Was this the best idea for recovery? No, and my quads and calves were punishing me for it. But it had been a beautiful day and I had needed to fulfill my spiritual yearning for the mountains. Plus, getting out of Craftsbury, with people I don’t spend every minute of every day with, is always a bonus.

Anyway, we passed the shelter and kept running for a bit, then decided we should probably turn around and head back to the car. In our exhausted state, who knows how long it might take us?

Going back up the mountain, we saw an additional sign that really clarified what was going on with this section of trail:

Right! So all those people getting lost were in the winter! Which would explain why they were so concerned, because getting lost in the winter would be a huge bummer. All of a sudden, things made sense. I even hypothesized that maybe the trail wasn’t blazed because they didn’t want skiers trying to follow it.

Anyway, we eventually hiked back up the section of ski trail (my calves were seriously questioning my instructions at this point) and found a nice older couple to take our picture at the top. We got to enjoy the yellow grassiness one more time before jogging back down to the car, where we more or less collapsed. Neither of us wanted to move any part of our body in the near, or distant, future.

It was a great morning, no matter how tired we felt. I can’t wait to try running that same section from the north side, perhaps when I am less exhausted. In any case, we were thrilled to go somewhere new, somewhere that lived up to and even surpassed our high expectations.

Finally, I swear we didn’t try to coordinate our clothes…. we just accidentally turned out matching!

Gloomy Days

When you open your eyes and see this out the window, it’s hard to get out of bed:

Dark. Gloomy. Rain in the distance. These are things that seriously hamper my motivation to go train.

Yesterday was particularly tough – the morning workout was threshold around the lake, something I often struggle with. “Around the lake” sounds flat, doesn’t it? And Big Hosmer Pond isn’t that big, is it? Well. The loop is actually 7.1 miles long, and starts with a long climb – about 200 feet of height differential in a mile.

Threshold work is supposed to be light and fun. The idea is that you are working hard, but not accumulating too much lactic acid. For me, I try to keep my heart rate at 180 to 185 beats per minute for threshold work. That’s about 90% of my max.

When you do 8 minute intervals at threshold pace, it feels good, like you could keep doing intervals at that pace forever.

When you run for 7 miles straight at threshold pace, it doesn’t feel so easy. Except for the fact that you don’t sprint at the end, the pace is not all that different than racing over the same distance.

Anyway, yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window. It was gray. It was drizzling. It was a little bit cold. And I didn’t have a training partner for the workout: Ida, Susan, and Hannah are gone on extended trips, and Lauren was in Jericho doing biathlon. I ate a quick breakfast and set out on the workout.

Even on gloomy days, you have to suck it up and try to motivate yourself. Was I as excited for the workout as I would have been if it was perfect running weather and I had a buddy to run with? Absolutely not. But I did manage to get the workout done and accomplish what I was supposed to accomplish. When I got home, I made zucchini bread, with lots of chocolate chips, and ate it warm out of the oven. Gloom calls for hot baked goods with melty chocolate.

This morning, I was faced with another similar situation. Before I went to bed last night, I checked the weather, which called for rain all day. Lauren and I had planned a 3 1/2 hour bike ride, and we had to do the workout no matter what the weather did. When we woke up, it was indeed wet and cold. But we put on our long-sleeve shirts and headed out promptly at 8 a.m. anyway.

On the first downhills, our fingers and toes felt frosty. But after ten minutes of riding, we were headed up the East Craftsbury road, which climbs about 700 feet in 4 miles. It’s no mountain pass, certainly, but it did warm us up.

On numerous occasions we felt sure we were about to ride into the rain. We could see it, right there, on the hill across the road. But after a minute of light sprinkles, the rain would disappear, and we would once again be riding through the wet, cold air – nothing to get too excited about, but at least it wasn’t wet, cold rain.

The ride went perfectly except for one thing: I flatted twice. The first time, I was upset, but changed the tube and used one of Lauren’s CO2 cartridges to fill up with air. As neither of us had used one of these handy tools before, there was a lot of giggling and screeching, especially when the cartridge seemed to freeze onto my valve. New skill: check!

The second time, we were in Irasburg, with less than 45 minutes left to ride. I chickened out and didn’t feel like fixing another flat so close to home. Luckily, my housemate Anna happened to be driving through Irasburg and picked me up! So I got a ride home, where I took a long, hot shower and ate some more zucchini bread.

Fall is in a way the toughest time of year for finding motivation. It should be easy, because racing is so immediate: you need to get out there and get ready. But at the same time, you’ve been doing dryland training for months already, and you’re kind of sick of it. Do you really want to go for another long rollerski now that it’s cold and, invariably, raining?

I know that I have to buckle down and stop being such a gloom-bucket myself. There’s always a hot shower waiting for me at home – so how bad can it be?

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