4,444 miles.

4,444 miles is how far Google Maps says I drove between June 28th and July 13th. But secretly, it was more than that. Those 4,444 miles don’t count driving up the Taos Ski Valley and back, twice. Or lots of other little detours and mysteries. I moved from Eugene back to New Hampshire, but I didn’t take a direct route.

How on earth do you write about a road trip that is four and a half thousand miles long? I’m not sure, but I’m going to try. Before I begin: internet is slow here at 92 Highbridge Road, so don’t expect many pictures. And unrelatedly, I’ve started a tumblr called Cooking For My Parents about the food I’ll make them for the month that I’m at home. I don’t have time to write up every culinary adventure on this blog, but on tumblr I don’t feel bad just posting a photo and a caption with a short story and a link to the recipe. Already up there is some chicken, an improvisational salad, and some fantastic ice cream.

Back to my road trip. I had an inauspicious start: for some reason I thought it would be a fine idea to work through Tuesday and leave early Wednesday morning. I think at the time, I figured I would pack the weekend before I left. The problem was that the weekend before I left was U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field, right there in Eugene, and I ended up working. No time to pack. Plus I wanted to see my friends. So all of my packing happened Tuesday morning, before work, and then after work that night, with an extended break to get dinner with some friends at the Friendly Street Party Cart (highly recommended! local and cheap!) and then beer with some other friends at Eugene’s best new brewpub, Falling Sky (amazing, ever-changing selection and happy hour prices when it’s raining, a questionable business move in the Northwest). Oh, and Laura and I also had to clean the house! Long story short, I was finally packed up just after 1 a.m. and sacked out in my sleeping bag on the floor.

The next morning, the two of us woke up at 4:30 and drove our separate cars – with a lounge chair somehow stuffed into Laura’s Prius with her other stuff – to our friend Mike’s. Mike wanted the chair and kindly offered to make us breakfast at 5 a.m. before we left. So we ate waffles and hit the road, in our two cars, connected by walkie talkies! Laura is the best. It was Salt Lake City or bust.

And it was almost bust. After just about four hours of sleep, I wasn’t ready for a 14-hour drive. Somewhere in Nevada I got drowsy… and drowsier… and drowsiest until I was nodding along and driving was completely terrifying. I sent Laura an SOS on the walkie talkie. We were in that stretch of I-70 where there are no services for a long time, and I was at a loss. But Laura saved the day by revealing that she had a french press and a thermos full of hot water. We went for a walk in the sagebrush and she made me coffee, and when we hit the road again I was good as new.

After a brief stop in the Bonneville Salt Flats, we made it to Salt Lake, where I handed over the walkie talkie and we parted ways. I drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon to my aunt and uncle’s cabin. Uncle Ross and my cousin Mary were rafting the Grand Canyon, but my aunt Kathy was there to meet me and offer my an amazing dinner of cauliflower fritters, baked eggplant (better than it sounds), fruit salad, homemade pizza, and several other things that I can’t remember but were extremely delicious. After dinner I immediately fell asleep in the big bed upstairs and slept until 11 a.m. the next day. Whew, I needed that!

I can’t remember when the last time I slept that late was, and Kathy gets a big thank-you for being patient! It certainly limits what you can do with your day. But we went for a lovely hike that afternoon to a lake on the other side of the Brighton ski area and watched the dog launch himself off a rock over and over chasing a stick into the water. Then we ate at an Ethiopian restaurant – yum! And had a glass of wine in the hot tub.

By Friday it was time for another long drive, this time down to Taos, New Mexico. I really thought my old car – it’s a 1998 4Runner – was going to croak going through Moab, where it was about 100 degrees. The air conditioner spit out room-temperature air, which was better than hot air but nowhere near what a fully functional car would produce. Luckily we made it to cooler temperatures and I arrived in Taos around 9 p.m. to meet my friend Andrew. We – shamefully, considering all the great food Kathy had just plied me with – ate a fast food dinner and found a camping spot up towards the mountains.

In the morning we began our ascent of Wheeler Peak, which at 13,161 feet is the tallest mountain in New Mexico. Our hike began with a mile or more of steep trail through the woods. Eventually, we came above treeline and things opened up – beautifully. But it was several more miles; when we initially popped out of the woods, we couldn’t even see the peak we were aiming for. It was beautiful hiking, though, with views of the many tall mountains in the “enchanted circle,” as the area is known.

We snacked on top and appreciated the views, but soon heard thunder and saw rain so decided to skedaddle. Andrew revealed he had a headache. I wasn’t feeling so hot either – coming from sea level, 13,000 feet is fairly tough. We ran briefly to make sure we wouldn’t be on the ridge in a thunderstorm, but we needn’t have worried; more hikers were streaming up. In a nice meadow we stopped for lunch. As we ate, we heard what sounded like a very loud cow and wondered aloud whether it was a chainsaw. Minutes later a herd of cows burst out of the woods, pushed along by two cowboys and a dog.

“Are you going to Wheeler Peak?” one of the cowboys asked.

“We’ve already been!” we said.

“You’ve been up and down already?”

We nodded.

“You must be in hell of a good shape,” he said before riding off.

The whole thing – the cows above treeline, the cowboys – made my day.

By the time we got back to our cars Andrew had a migraine. We drove down to the lowest elevation we could, found a campsite, and I set up a tent; he crawled inside and slept. There was still a bit of the day left so I got out my road bike and went for a ride. Hey, when life hands you lemons – it was a nice ride, from Questa to Red River and back. The next day, Andrew feeling better but cautious, we hiked up to Williams Lake, which was nice but relatively unimpressive considering the scenery from the day before. After a Tex-Mex lunch, we parted ways and Andrew drove back to Midland, Texas, where he’s doing an internship.

Next I drove East from Taos to see my friends Maggie and Brad, who live just outside of Ledoux, New Mexico, which isn’t even really a town. Basically, into the mountains from Taos. Maggie sold me my horse Jenny when I was in middle school; she breeds Morgan horses and Australian Shepherd dogs. Back then, I’d go over to her house for a couple of days at a time in the summer, help out around the barn, and ride the horses. For my 14th birthday, she gave me Bravo, my dog. Then she moved to New Mexico.

I hadn’t seen Maggie in ten years and it was a joyous occasion. I stayed for three glorious days, helping with barn chores and riding the horses just like in the old days. Only this time we had Western saddles and real trails to check out. At the end of the day, we’d feed the horses, ride a few bareback down to the pasture for the night, and then sit back and drink beer before dinner. In the hottest part of the day, we’d hole up inside with her granddaughter and play rummy. In three days we ate two watermelons. I didn’t want to leave.

But I did, driving north on the fourth of July to see my college teammate Courtney in Vail. She graciously allowed me to bust in on her family get-together, which was great. Courtney had just gotten back from leading a group of high school students on a trip to Bolivia to install clean water pumps. We looked at her pictures and oohed and ahed. We both wore red, white, and blue outfits. For the first time in my life I felt like Courtney – with her job at the dental office and her boyfriend who owns the house they live in – was way more of an adult than I was. Not that that made things any less fun.

The next morning, Courtney had to leave for work around 6 so I drove over the pass and made quick stops in Morrison for breakfast with my great uncle Donald and then in Boulder for coffee with my co-worker Audrey. Then it was down to Pitkin, another not-really-town, this time outside of Gunnison. My friend Sean had built a cabin and the last time I’d been there, in 2009, it had been, shall we say, unfinished.

This time, the cabin was beautiful and impeccably organized and a place you’d really want to live, despite its ten by twelve foot footprint – and that’s exactly what Sean and his girlfriend Sarah were doing for the summer. They cooked me a birthday dinner of fish tacos (unbelievably delicious) and even made a cake in the tiny gas-powered oven on the porch. We drank the last of the glogg I had made in Eugene this winter. I can’t think of a better place to have a birthday.

Our plans for the following day included hiking Fairview Peak, which looms in Sean’s backyard and is casually taller than Wheeler was. Gotta love Colorado. But the weather came in early and bizarrely, from all directions at once, and we decided to abort. Instead we hiked up to an amazing abandoned mine which featured a huge, still-standing log building for some sort of ore processing. We marveled at how it had been built by hand with such giant logs, and wondered how large of a hammer was needed to pound in the massive nails at the top of the roofline. We were easily at 11,000 feet, but people had lived and worked here back when everything was done by human and animal power – it boggled the mind.

That night, steak, corn, asparagus, lots of booze, and evening walks in the woods. I woke up with a hangover and drove to Granby to see my aunt, the very last stop in the West. It was not a pleasant drive.

But a pleasant visit: I never want to leave Lizzie’s. My friend Ed had come down from Cheyenne, which made the visit even sweeter. Lizzie and her partner Paula are some of my very favorite people in the world and they always take such good care of me. We lounged around, took the dog for walks (that’s another story though), and did a couple great bike rides, one up Willow Creek Pass and the other into Rocky Mountain National Park. We cooked and ate good food. We sat on the porch in the sun and drank beer. They’re lucky they could get me to leave at all.

Finally: Eastward at breakneck speed. Spent the night in Princeton, Illinois because that’s as far as I could get. Then I stopped in Syracuse to see an old friend, Thomas, and his girlfriend Becca. We ate at a Mexican restaurant, Alto Cinqo, which I swear would have beat anything in Taos – the jerk chicken tacos were to. die. for. Then beers with their friends, a late-night run to Insomnia Cookies, and bedtime.

Thomas and I had more of a chance to catch up when I gave him a ride back to the Upper Valley the next day. For the first time all trip, I had a buddy in the car! And it was great. Despite steady e-mail communication, I barely ever see my friends from middle school – we are scattered all over the place. I was just glad that I had been able to carve out enough space for Thomas to sit in, because my car was absolutely jam-packed full!

When I drove up the driveway of 92 Highbridge Road, Bravo barked; he seemed to have forgotten all about the 4Runner in its extended absence. When he saw it was me, he bashfully wagged his tail. I was home.

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Cinco de Gimpo.

It has been ages since I’ve posted about cooking on here. Like, I am pretty sure I have aged since then. But! It doesn’t mean that I haven’t been cooking. I have been cooking, and baking, and eating. I’m still really into soup. I’ve also been on an asparagus bender, because, well, it’s spring!

This here, though, this is a recipe that I made up myself, and I’m so excited that I had to share. As I contemplate moving away from Eugene, I’m looking at all my belongings: costume items that I’ll send back to the thrift store, books sitting on the shelf that I’d like to read before transporting them back to New Hampshire, this giant desk that I will have to somehow sell… and random food in the cupboards. I’m looking at you, five-pound bag of masa flour. Conveniently, about the time I remembered that I should probably use it up, it was Cinco de Mayo.

I’m not sure I’ve ever celebrated Cinco de Mayo in any serious way, but I was determined to start. Well, sort of determined. I wanted to use up that masa flour, and to drink margaritas. So I talked to my friends Brian and Andrea. Andrea, you see, had just broken her ankle. She was on some pretty powerful painkillers, so she wouldn’t be able to have any tequila, but I tried to think of a way we could celebrate the holiday in a sedentary fashion. So I thought and thought and thought, and wished I had a tortilla press, and thought some more, and thought: stuff them!

I cooked up some onions, green chiles, carrots, cheese, and tomatos, and then we sat around the table on the porch making masa cakes. Brian drank beer and Andrea propped her leg up on a chair, and was disappointingly non-loopy. It was a beautiful, beautiful afternoon – it’s finally spring in the most glorious of senses – and we grabbed blobs of the masa/flour paste and kneaded them with our hands. Then we shaped them into a ball, flattened the ball, dumped some filling on top, and folded the masa over and sealed the edged. Like a hand-pie. Made of masa.

This makes it sound easy. It wasn’t hard, exactly, but it was messy. And at first, we stuffed too much filling inside the cakes. Then we tried to make them into balls instead of turnovers. By the time we settled on a form that didn’t fall apart or leak, there was masa everywhere. We headed inside, where Brian fried up the cakes in some oil while Andrea read out loud from an Amy Sedaris book. My favorite was the part about the mouse ghetto.

Anyway, we sat out on the porch, eating beans and rice, avocado and lime, and masa cakes. It was perfect. The cakes were delicious. Then we joined a few more friends for margaritas and Trivial Pursuit, girls vs. boys. Girls rule boys drool.

It wasn’t a crazy Cinco de Mayo, but it was a happy one, spent with good friends. And we didn’t make authentic Mexican food, but we made food with Mexican ingredients – isn’t that what America does?

Masa Cakes Stuffed With Green Chiles and Cheese

This makes about 12 to 15 cakes, depending on how big you make them. You have to sort of wing it on the ratio of filling to masa dough. It’s very easy to make more dough if you have leftover filling, or you can put the filling in an omelette, where it is also quite tasty.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion

4 cloves garlic

3 Anaheim peppers

2 carrots (I used purple ones)

1 Roma tomato

salt and pepper

coriander

oregano, Mexican if possible

chile powder

a ball of Mozzarella cheese

4 cups (roughly) Masa Harina

water

a neutral, high-temperature vegetable oil for frying

lime slices; salsa and guacamole to dip in, if desired

Start by roasting the peppers. Set your oven to broil and place the peppers on a lightly oiled baking sheet, rolling them around to coat with a thin layer of oil. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the skin on the peppers begins to blister. Roll the peppers so a new side is facing the broiler element, and repeat. Most peppers have three flattish sides, and make sure that each begins to blister. Then pull the pan out of the oven. The skin should peel off of the peppers easily; make sure that you have it all off. Chop of the tops of the peppers, slice in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Chop into small pieces and place in a bowl.

In a frying pan, heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook for a minute; add the carrots, salt and pepper, and spices. You can make the filling quite flavorful as only a small amount will be in each masa cake. Cook until the carrots are soft, then add to the bowl with the chiles. Chop the tomato and add it to the bowl, then shred the cheese over everything and stir to combine.

In a larger bowl, place the masa and add water, stirring, until a dry dough forms. Take a ball of dough the size of a lemon and knead it in your hands for a few minutes. When it is more cohesive and pliable and seems strong, shape it into a ball, then flatten that ball on the countertop. Pick it up and use your palms and fingers to make it as thin as possible without ripping. Place back on the countertop, and spoon some filling into the middle, just to one side of an imaginary center dividing line on the disk of dough. Fold the edge of the disk together, crimp them, and place on a plate or baking sheet. Repeat until there is no more dough.

In a frying pan, heat 1/4 inch of oil until it shimmers. If there is not enough oil, the cakes will stick to the bottom of the pan and fall apart. Fry the cakes, flipping from side to side carefully, until golden all over and dark brown at the roundest parts. Dry on a stack of paper towels to remove some oil.

Serve with slivers of lime to squeeze over the masa cakes, condiments, and, if you’re like me, back beans and rice.

Table Rocking.

On Thursday I drove down to southern Oregon for work.

Spring is coming in leaps and bounds to the northwest. Last week when we were working in our plots Laurel shouted in surprise, pointing to almost-mature seeds on one of our focal species, Thysanocarpus radians. I looked in shock at the perfect, round disks hanging from the stalks. They were fading from green to beige in the sun, and still ringed in a dark purple. As soon as the purple was gone, the seeds would be ready to collect. This is one of our few plants which is maybe more beautiful in seed than in flower. I loved to look at it, but I had to sigh – if things were already ripening, then fieldwork was going to pick up in the next few weeks, and soon I’d be busier than I could imagine.

As I run through town these days I’m following the smells of spring, because unlike the scrappy wildflowers I study, the bursting blooms of Eugene gardens give off heady scents. My favorites are the flowering trees, drooping their branches into the street as if to snag me. Yes, it is spring. Some days, it’s even sunny.

And so I drove down almost to Medford to check on a population of Thysanocarpus, lovingly dubbed “Thyrad” in our abbreviated naming system, to see if the seeds were ready to collect. After we dried them and sorted them, they would be planted in the plots next fall – assuming we find more grant money to extend the project.

The collection site, Whetstone Prairie, is owned by the Nature Conservancy and is quite beautiful in and of itself. Vernal pools are edged by grasses and, where I was lucky, healthy populations of Thyrad, weighed down by seeds still ringed in purple (phew). Dense thickets of shrubs fill the spaces in between and make navigation from one miniature meadow to the next tricky. I kicked myself for not wearing my rubber boots, because it would have been easier to simply march through the channels between the pools.

In the distance, the Table Rocks loomed. I drove closer to check on a population of another plant, Ranunculus austrooreganus.

And then, I thought, what the heck? I’m here. I’m going up.


Soon I was walking up a path in the bright sun, seemingly leaving behind the moody clouds of Whetstone for the moment. I hiked through different stages of spring. After just over a mile, I suddenly popped over the top and onto the table proper.

It was somehow larger than I had expected. And windy. And bright. Although the Table Rocks aren’t really that tall – I could see much higher features, actual mountains, off in the distance in almost every direction – I felt like I was on top of something magical. It was remarkably flat, and I felt like you could do whatever you wanted up here and nobody would know. It was entirely separated from the rest of the world. I pictured bonfires, dancing around them. Festivals. Maybe a medieval knights’ tournament, complete with tents and banners and jousting. I’ve been reading Trina Schart Hyman books, yes I have. Go buy some. A few of my favorites seem to be out of print and it made me sad.

I hiked across the great flat table towards the other side, and the other Table Rock loomed in the distance.

I stood there, on the edge, looking down the rough and disorganized dropoff. Rather than one clean cliff it was many jumbled into each other, with scraggly trees growing out of the rocks and further down a green forest canopy. A hawk played in the air, swooping back and forth looking for a snack.

I turned around to head back. After all, I was technically playing hooky from work.

My next destination, the field site where we have our plots in Selma, an hour away, would be rainy and cold. I knew it. As I walked down to the parking lot I tried to soak up every last bit of springtime sun. Just because the flowers are growing doesn’t mean that the weather gods are smiling. It takes rain to grow, too.

How to Use Klister at a Citizens’ Race, Expanded

I mid-January, I decided for some reason to do a 25 kilometer skate race in Bend, Oregon. I was helping with a high school race nearby on Saturday, so it seemed so logical: I’d just skip over to Bend for the night, get up in the morning, do the race – 25k isn’t that long, right? – and then hang out in town with some friends.

This post isn’t really about the 25k, which was really hard. I’m not in shape anymore, and I don’t get on snow very often, and those things combine to make a half marathon seem pretty darn tough. But the weekend was the origin of another adventure. While I was in Bend I stayed with my college friend Katie Bono, who was in town visiting her boyfriend Cody’s family. They weren’t interested in the 25k, but seemed excited about a 15k classic race to be held the next weekend up at Mount Hood. After my race, I was not at all sure that I was interested in doing any more long ski competitions, but it was so fun to see Katie and Cody that I got myself psyched up.

In the days before the race, we exchanged e-mails, asking things like, “do you have a bench?” “nah, don’t need one.” “what about a heatgun?”

We were super prepared.

Since the temperature was supposed to be in the 30’s or higher, I actually went to the local ski shop, Berg’s, to try to boost my klister collection, but found that they didn’t sell klister. What kind of a ski shop is that!? Seriously. So I just kind of hoped that between Katie and I, we’d have the right wax.

Once we made it to Teacup, a snow-park on Mount Hood where the local ski club has built a small lodge, the games began. Here is a little description of how, as a pair of former full-time racers, you approach a race for which you are completely unprepared.

1. Look confused.

If you look confused, then you have a decent chance that nobody will come up and ask you what the wax is. Unfortunately, because I was wearing an old Dartmouth Ski Team jacket and Katie was in her Rossignol gear, there was nothing we could do. Another Dartmouth alum (from before our time) arrived and told us that she had forgotten her wax box at home, could she borrow some klister? This was nothing compared to all the old guys, though, who would ask what we were testing. We would tell them Rode rossa (Katie had the plain stuff, I had a tube of fluorinated stuff) and they would ask, “what is that in Swix?”

2. Pick up your skis and dab some klister on.

As mentioned above, don’t bring a wax bench. Why would you need one? As one of you starts to stick globs of cold klister onto your skis, make sure that the other one goes through at least half a box of matches attempting to light the torch which has been purchased for this specific occasion and doesn’t really work.

3. Snow is a great wax bench, so use it.

Put your ski back in the snow, and try to use the faltering torch to heat your klister in. It won’t really work, so you can always go ask the Toko rep to borrow his torch. Use your thumb or the palm of your hand to rub the wax in. Since you have minimal heat, the ski won’t be pretty and you will be very, very sticky. That’s what gloves are for.

4. Is this going to work for anyone else?

On the start line, look around and check.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Keep those skis moving.

You don’t want them to ice up, because then you’d fall down in the start, and that would be super embarrassing. Plus, you’re like the only one wearing an actual full race suit, so you gotta look good. Man, this is getting stressful. Note to self, next time leave the race top at home.

 

6. Congrats, it works! Kind of.

For the first few kilometers your very pro wax job works great. You are striding up hills like a champ! It does, however, pick up approximately 3.8 pinecones worth of crud, which means that your skis get really slow and grabby. Probably nothing you could have done about that. In the meantime, try not to fall down.

7. Stay on your feet, will you? Jeeze.

It could be kind of hard.

Hello old friends.

Hi there. Are you still there? Anyone? Have you missed me? Probably not. I’m afraid you’ve all given up permanently on reading anything here.

But, as my good friend Tim pointed out when I was home for Christmas and mentioned that I was giving up on the blog and even considering deleting it, “But Chelsea. Then the least thing people would ever see would be you coming out of a portapotty. Is that how you want to be remembered?”

Well, now that you mention it, not particularly. So now, only one cover letter away from the grad school application finish line, I’m coming back and offering you a picture of me skiing, inside a giant inflatable snowman lawn ornament with armholes and eyeholes cut out of it.

This didn’t happen recently. I flew home for Christmas and was so happy to be back in New England, seeing my family and my dog (who was recovering from surgery like a champ) and many old friends. And then all too soon I had to come back to Oregon to do some fieldwork – we have weekly tasks, and while I could skip out on one week, I couldn’t miss two in a row. So I arrived on a Monday night, worked three days, and then took advantage of our New Year’s vacation and headed over to Bend with the South Eugene High School nordic ski team.

The team is surprisingly large considering that there isn’t actually any nordic skiing to be had in Eugene. It’s a really fun group of kids, parents, and coaches, and so when they said they were doing an on-snow camp over in Bend over the New Year, I signed up to help out. The first surprise was when I woke up in the morning, saw that a blizzard was forecasted for the Cascades, and promptly received a phone call telling me that Janice, the head coach’s wife, had broken a crown and needed to get emergency dental work, so she couldn’t drive the van. I was the only other coach with experience driving in snow, so all of a sudden, I was going to be captaining an unfamiliar minivan full of giggling teenagers through a huge storm. Awesome.

The drive was actually fine – we slid around quite a bit, but never going too fast, and I was somehow able to stay calm and hide my occasional freakouts from the kids. As we went over Santiam Pass, it was clear that there was going to be tons of snow at Mount Bachelor. We were scheduled to skate this afternoon and I began mentioning that this probably wasn’t going to be very much fun, in six inches to a foot of new snow. Maybe we should classic ski, I suggested. This idea was met with opposition as “waxing is hard and takes a really long time.”

So, we slowly inched our way up to Mount Bachelor to find that they were not grooming due to the blizzard. It was windy and there was a lot – a LOT – of new snow. Wonderland, sort of. I was assigned to go on a jaunt with our star skier, Trevor, and impress some of my technique knowledge on him. We set out and it immediately became clear that technique work was NOT going to happen. Since nothing we could do would have been “good training” anyway, we went on an adventure, slogging around a six or seven kilometer loop down through the middle trails. We were essentially trying to stride, step, herringbone, or do anything to move forward on our skate skis through what was now almost a foot of new powder. It took us about an hour.

It was fun, but I really wish we’d been on classic skis. I was silently cursing the other coaches and thinking, oh, right, waxing would have been hard but this isn’t!?

The worst part of the afternoon was when we finished skiing and tried to pack the skis back into the roof boxes of the vans. It was blowing really hard – the temperature was about 25, but with the wind and snow and ice, it felt like it was 20 degrees colder. The boxes had iced up and were impossible to open, then impossible to close. Kids were shivering, yelling, in some cases almost crying in their wet workout clothes. I was almost crying. I was frozen.

Luckily day two was sunny and the fresh snow had been packed down into perfect corduroy. We had a great day of training. That night was New Year’s Eve and I went into town to meet up with some college friends, Matt and Anna, who I hadn’t seen since graduation. The three of us had run together at Dartmouth before one by one quitting the team. Matt and Anna are married now, and were visiting Matt’s family in Bend for the holidays. It was great to hang out.

The next morning I woke up not exactly hung over, but thinking that I probably should have skipped that last beer because wow, I didn’t feel awesome. The team was supposed to head up to the mountain for MBSEF’s annual New Year’s Relay, a fun event where costumes are encouraged. We figured all the kids would make teams and it would be great. The problem was, on Sunday morning none of them seemed very enthusiastic. We went from having every kid on a team – many had even brought costumes – to all of a sudden not having a single three-person team.

Another coach and I charged in, saying we wanted to do the relay, would just one person do it with us? And got three responses. That gave us five people. We recruited vigorously and managed to get a sixth so we could field two teams.

My team consisted of me, Natalie, and Langdon. Natalie had skied the year before and was pretty athletic. Langdon was tall and athletic, too, but had never skied before this weekend. He also had a costume, an inflatable snowman of the sort that people put on their front lawns, which he had cut armholes and eyeholes out of and dismantled the bottom so you could move your legs a little. There were also a series of small holes around the mouth so you could breathe a little bit. He was too embarrassed to wear it, though.

So guess who did. That’s right. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never met a costume I didn’t like, and this was no exception. In a matter of minutes I was no longer Coach Chelsea, but…. Snowwoman!

The course was just three kilometers, but it was deceptively hard – three one-kilometer loops going up and down and twisting around. I was the leadoff skier and given that I had no peripheral vision inside the snowman suit, at first I just tried not to get tangled up with anyone. Then I realized that I had extremely limited mobility – I couldn’t open up my stride and was stuck taking very short steps. When I double-poled, my arms bashed against the bulky middle of the snowman so I had to have a very wide stance.

I also realized, pretty quickly, that the mouth holes did not line up with my mouth and that I was essentially trying to race with my head inside a plastic bag.

It was hard, and I felt a little lightheaded, but it was fun. A lot of people cheered for me – “Go Snowman!” and “Wow, here comes the snowman already!” Apparently they don’t expect snowmen to be quick on their skis. And I wasn’t, particularly – I think I tagged off somewhere in the middle of the field, maybe the front of the middle. I quickly took the costume off and enjoyed sucking all the oxygen I could out of the thin 6000-foot-high air.

My teammates did the best they could. Langdon really struggled, which was understandable given that he had basically never skied before. We dropped to last, but we didn’t care. Natalie and Langdon both said they’d had fun, and they had a sense of accomplishment that their other teammates, who hadn’t raced, couldn’t have understood.

And me? I had a slobbery snowman suit. What a prize.

silver falls half marathon.

So I promised a full writeup on my half-marathon, and then I kind of forgot about it because I’m so busy frantically writing and nursing my sore leg and registering for the GRE. WHAT!? Yes, registering for a stupid standardized test. I thought I would never have to take one of them again. Also, I made some amazing fish cakes and dilly potatoes from The Scandinavian Cookbook. No photos, sorry, but the recipe is here and you should make them. So. Good.

But back to the half marathon. I registered for this thing way back in August; I saw an e-mail from a friend mentioning that it was a great race and sold out very quickly, so the day that registration opened I went on line and bought myself a spot. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and at that point the race was months away. It just seemed like a good thing to do.

All through this month I felt the half marathon looming. I should do some threshold intervals, I thought. Or maybe I should do some more long runs. Either way, I should probably do something. I hadn’t been training – just doing easy runs and the occasional rollerski. Two weeks before the race, I actually had a good week of training. I did 3 x 15 minutes at threshold, and a rollerski, and some 60-second uphill intervals, and a 10-mile trail run. I knew that it wouldn’t do me any good physiologically, really, but I wanted to be mentally prepared to suffer.

Then the week before the race I woke up one morning hurt. It was my ankle at first – it felt weak and kind of crumbly – but it caused a shooting pain up the outside of my calf when I moved. I had no idea where this was coming from or what I had done to cause it. At first I thought maybe it would go away as quickly as it appeared, so I did an easy run. It didn’t get better. So then I took the two days before the race off. I was nervous, really nervous, that I was going to be limping around for 13 miles.

Luckily, that’s not how it happened. We arrived at the rainy, cold start in Silver Falls State Park about 40 minutes before the race, picked up our bibs, and tried to stay warm. I had an idea that I wasn’t going to go out too fast, that I was going to ease into the first mile to gradually get my heart rate up. The gun went off and I jogged about a quarter mile, and then my competitive juices got going and I thought, what am I doing!? This is a race! I started passing people and went through the first mile in just over seven minutes. My plan had failed, but the andrenaline kept me from noticing my ankle and calf. They didn’t complain one bit.

At first I thought the fast pace was a huge mistake, but then I figured I would just go with it. In every long ski race I’ve ever done, I’ve been afraid to push from the start. I’ve thought about the distance and rationalized my way out of going hard. This time around, I ignored that. I watched my heart rate climb into the high 170s and low and then mid 180s and I embraced it. I just kept running. The first few miles were flat or rolling and it wasn’t until mile four that we had a big climb and I noticed that my legs were heavy and not really working the way they usually do. But oh well: I pushed anyway, and I passed some very athletic-looking guy who was walking. Walking! Four miles into a half marathon! Come on! At that point we were running 7:20, 7:30 miles, too. Walking. Sheesh.

It took a few miles to get to the real waterfalls. I was beginning to think that this race was some sort of hoax and the waterfalls were totally lame. But then: bam! There they were! And they were spectacular. Big cascades coming down from rock ledges. Huge drops. In a few places, the trail cut behind the falls and into the cavernous overhangs they came off of, which is an unusual experience to say the least. I have to give it to these guys for finding a unique and beautiful venue for the race.

Let’s see, blah blah blah. Eventually we started going downhill. When I thought about this race, I thought my strength would be the uphills. But instead, it turned out to be the downhills. All of that skier training – running on the Appalachian Trail, darting down singletrack – has made me relatively fearless. I would pass men and women who were daintily picking their way through the mud and wet leaves, afraid of slipping and falling. Me? I know that running downhill is simply a matter of channeling your momentum, so I just rolled along. It was fun! A friend later told me she thought it was my giant quads that made me good at the technical downhills, and I guess she probably isn’t wrong.

Even early in the race, I began rationalizing the distances. When I had run three miles, I thought to myself, hey, you only have ten miles left! That’s not so bad! Then when I thought about it, I realized that I’d only run ten miles a few times in the last six months, and that was actually still quite a task. Five miles in, I thought, hey, you only have eight miles left! That’s only, like, another hour.

And that’s where things started getting good. My least favorite training as a skier was the long run at a fast pace, or at a pace that’s just below threshold. Pepa would have us do these workouts to prepare for marathons where the entire point was to deplete your energy stores and force your body to metabolize differently. They would be two, two and a half hours of this pretty fast pace, but not fast enough to actually be fun. Just fast enough that two hours later you were amazed that you could keep it up for two hours.

Anyway, that was the best mental toughness training I could ask for. If you tell most people, oh, just run for another hour with your heart rate averaging, say, in the low 180s, they would say, holy shit, that sounds impossible. I thought that too, in half my brain, but in the other half my brain, I was thinking, I’ve got this.

And I did. I may not have maintained an even pace, but I maintained a hard effort. I pushed myself for another hour. Then after another couple miles I could change my mantra to, all you have to do is keep running for another forty five minutes. Why, that was even easier than before! Until I got to the climbs, that is.

From looking at the course profile, I knew that at about eight miles I would start climbing again and the fun would be over. I had it a bit off – the eighth mile was actually pretty easy. It was the ninth one that killed me. And the tenth. And the eleventh. As I said, I wasn’t expecting to feel so sluggish on the uphills, but it was really tough. The clincher was that after mile nine, the really big climb came as a series of stone steps. I was not expecting this. Running up steps is different than running up a hill because you can’t set your own rhythm or cadence – you are bound to take steps exactly as big as the stairs. It was the only time in the whole race where I walked, because after a while I just couldn’t find the right rhythm for those darn steps. And there were a lot of them.

From then on, it was ugly. With two miles to go I tried to pick it up, telling myself that I only had to run for another fifteen minutes, so how bad could it be? The worst of the climbing was over, but there was still plenty of gradual, rolling terrain, and I was beat. My strides had shortened and I felt awkward, like I was hobbling along as fast as I could. Still, I pushed it and I saw my mile splits come back down towards 7 after being up over 9 for the last really steep sections. With one mile to go I thought I could make it. I was so close. Just seven more minutes, I told myself. You can push really hard for seven minutes. Think of all the things you’ve done that are harder than that.

Then I came around a corner and saw a mountain.

No, it wasn’t a mountain. It reminded me a little bit of a hill at the Thetford High School course back in Vermont, actually. It was just that it was quite steep, and not short, and 3/4 of a mile from the finish of a half marathon. That’s a lot different than being two miles into a 5k. When I finally got to the top of that hill – and several people had passed me during the process – I was faced with an equally steep downhill. Maybe even more steep. I’ve already told you I’m good at running downhill, but this was too much. My legs were jelly and I was afraid that they were just going to give out. It was muddy. I was sure I was going to fall, but the finish was so close that I tried to roll along anyway.

When I finally made it across the line, I just wanted to lie down. It feels so good to feel so tired, but it feels bad too. Honestly, I was proud of myself not so much for my time or place but because I had really pushed hard the whole time, harder than in most ski races. I didn’t have any mental issues to deal with, and I didn’t have any pressure: those were the two things that wrecked my ski career. At the half marathon, I didn’t have anything else to think about except working hard, and boy did I work hard.

There wasn’t time to lounge, though. I needed dry clothes, and more of them. I needed something hot to drink. Something hot to eat. I found some of my friends who finished before and after me and we ate chili provided by the race staff. It was great. We drank beer. After the awards we had a party and drank more beer.

And that’s the story of the half marathon. My leg is back to being all messed up, and it’s November, so I don’t think I’ll be doing any more running races in the near future – when I get back in action, I’ll be focusing on skiing – but it was an amazing way to cap off an awesome fall. I beat my half marathon demons and some of my more general racing demons, too. I’m ready to ski!

a crazy family.

On Sunday night my housemate Heather and the women who lives in our backyard, Elizabeth, wanted to carve pumkins.

So we did.

First, a little bit about our housing arrangement, which is unusual. Our house is on the edge of the city, definitely still in the neighborhoods but not downtown; as a result our lot has more of a yard than I’d expect. It’s full of berries and fruit trees, and also a pair of yurts where Erik and Elizabeth live. Erik is our landlord’s son and Elizabeth is his girlfriend. They are younger than me but older in a lot of ways too; they work in gardens and on wood and with their hands, don’t have many amenities, and survive almost entirely on cash. This summer they got a truck and were so excited. They don’t pay rent.

The situation is mostly wonderful because Erik and Elizabeth are really nice. Sometimes, it’s strange to have people living in your backyard regardless of how nice they are, though. This weekend Elizabeth was talking about how she wants to get ducks because duck eggs are so good, and I just thought of how I didn’t really want ducks wandering around our yard. I didn’t want to be stepping in duck poo all the time, and I just didn’t want to deal with them. Then I felt bad. That’s the thing about Erik and Elizabeth: whenever they ask you about something, you feel like you have to say yes even if you don’t want to because the idea is so charming and sustainable. You feel like a grouch saying no.

That didn’t come up in our pumpkin-carving evening, though. Because who doesn’t want to carve pumpkins? Elizabeth had dragged Erik to the pumpkin patch and they had each picked out a nice carving pumpkin. Heather, on the other hand, grabbed two smallish pie pumpkins from the supermarket.We figured we could use the pumpkins for pie after we looked at them for a few days. I’m not sure that’s how it works, but we’re going to try.

My other housemate, Laura, wanted to cook up the pumpkin seeds, so Heather and I each took a pumpkin and a few of Erik’s carving tools and the four of us set to work on the floor. It was immediately clear that everyone else was way, way more artistic for me. I briefly thought about doing a jack-o-lantern that wasn’t a face – maybe a tree, or a cat, or a snowflake – but then I thought, who am I kidding? I can’t draw that stuff. Much less carve it. So that was that, I was making a face.

Considering the amount of time I spent on my pumpkin, which was roughly the same amount of time everyone else took, the result was kind of lame. I mean, look at Elizabeth’s pumpkin:

Elizabeth thought that her pumpkin ended up looking like a monkey wearing a fez. And Erik’s pumpkin – the one on the right in the top photo – was absolutely incredible. He didn’t carve through at any point, but literally whittled a face out of the pumpkin flesh. Entertainingly, it ended up looking like a monkey too, and we wondered why they liked monkeys so much.

Despite being completely outclasses in the artsy-fartsy department, it was a lot of fun to sit around the floor joking and eating Laura’s delicious pumpkin seeds. We may have been more focused on our designs than we were when we were kids, but we had no less fun. I hadn’t carved a pumpkin in years, but I think I am going to have to make a habit of it again. Especially with friends, it’s a nice way to do something fall-like!

Although hopefully my jack-o-lanterns will get more ornate if I keep practicing…. although this fellow does have a bit of his own charm.