new paper.

A new paper I co-authored with my masters supervisor Juha Alatalo is out in Scientific Reports (he’s the first author, but my day is coming soon! stay tuned in the next few months!). It’s called “Vascular plant abundance and diversity in an alpine heath under observed and simulated global change.” Because SR is open access, you can read it! Click here for the PDF.

It’s based on an old dataset from Latnjajaure, Sweden, which I analyzed as part of a 15-credit “research training” course in my masters. I only later had the chance to spend a few weeks at the Latnja field station, and it was absolutely one of the most beautiful places I’ll ever have the chance to do fieldwork. Getting this email that the paper was published made me think back on my summer experience there! Here’s a few photos to get you in the mood.

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on to Falun.

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There are several blog posts which I have planned but not yet executed (God I couldn’t sound more like a scientist/robot if I tried), but instead I traveled…. last night I made it to Falun, Sweden, site of 2015 FIS Nordic Ski World Championships! Today cross country skiers, nordic combined athletes, and ski jumpers all had medal events. It’s crazy and fun and I’m super excited. I am working for FasterSkier.com, but with three of us here it’s nowhere near as stressful or crazy as when I go to a World Cup weekend singlehanded, and nowhere near as crazy as last year at the Olympics. We have three people and three articles per day while I’m here, not one person and three articles or three people and six or ten articles. Phew!

So not only is it work, but it is also vacation: we can sleep as long as we want in the mornings, and spend time talking and hanging out. It’s great to see my coworkers Alex and Lander again and I’m hoping to have time to see lots of other friends too. I have a breakfast date with Ida tomorrow morning and am very excited to catch up with buddies from the U.S.. Watching some very exciting ski racing is always fun, too.

And finally, it just feels great to be back in Sweden. As soon as I landed at Arlanda airport, I exhaled a sigh of relief: ahhhhh. It feels like home (maybe literally, since I spent quite a few nights sleeping in that dang airport). I hadn’t thought that Zürich didn’t feel like home, but Sweden is the place where I’ve spent the most time in the last 2 1/2 years, and it just feels comfortable to be back. Everything feels familiar and nice.

Here’s a link to my first article onsite, if you’re new to the blog and want to see what I do in my “other”, non-scientist life.

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go to northern scandinavia.

After our brief stop in Tromsø, we continued on to Abisko. After staying in the main scientific research station for a night, we took a helicopter ride up to Latnjajaure, our tiny field site. It’s only about a 3-4 hours walk, but we needed to bring food for almost three weeks up there, so hiking it up wasn’t a very good option. Plus, I had never been in a helicopter before! so that was a treat.

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I don’t know what to say about the work (it was the same? hard? confusing?), but our time at Latnja was amazing. There is an extensive hiking/trekking trail system in northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland, so we were right on the path of one of the trails. We could hike off into the heath and up the mountains surrounding our station, or we could make huge loops on established trails. Both were lovely.

One day we even hiked to the nearby(ish) Låkta hut, where we ordered soup. Helen and I were getting pretty desperate after not having fresh vegetables, and luckily their soup of the day was cream of broccoli. I ordered a coffee, too. It was perfect. I was amazed to see that you could stay at the hut (without meals, of course) for just 40 SEK – incredibly cheap, way cheaper than any AMC hut in New England or a hut in Switzerland. In fact, there aren’t very many things at all that you can do in Sweden for SEK 40!

So: if the following slideshow doesn’t convince you to go plan a hiking trip to northern Sweden/Norway immediately, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

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spring in Gotland.

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Over the last few weeks I have been lucky to receive some great visitors to Visby. First my mother came and now two other friends (one at a time!). It’s always amazing how sometimes you don’t do things or see the sights in the place you live until other people come to visit. Suddenly you feel you have to show them around, and you realize you don’t know how! So I’ve learned quite a bit about Visby and Gotland in these days.

It has also been nice because as tourist season approaches, more and more things are opening up, whether it is cafes and restaurants or the ruins of old cathedrals. This weekend I was able to finally go inside some of the ruins and man, they were incredible. So thanks to my visitors for finally getting me outside doing things (and eating some FANTASTIC food, as I rarely go out to eat by myself here in Sweden, $$$$).

When my mother was here we rented a car and ventured to the far north of the island, to Fårö, which is actually an island of its own. We took a small ferry across the channel (just a five minutes ride or something – in the U.S. they’d just build a bridge, but the ferry was great and I prefer it!) to the home of Ingmar Bergman. Confession, I have never seen a Bergman film. But I will have to now. Fårö is amazing. I don’t have much time to write, but here are a few pictures. Click to enlarge.

incredible Visby.

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When I moved to Visby, I was like, woohoo, this is pretty cool, it’s sunny and I live in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I didn’t really figure out just how cool it was until this weekend, when instead of having to go to work (BORING, amiright?) I was able to explore a little bit.

I mean, there were hints. For instance, this is the street I live on:

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And the running isn’t bad here either. This is just a 15-minute jog from my house:

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But on Saturday, I packed my bag to head to the university for the internet (I don’t have it in my flat, meaning I spend a lot more time reading and listening to podcasts, which I’m quite happy about), and was determined to take the long route, camera in hand.

This is the other side of that city wall on my street:

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It was quite a lovely way to start a walk.

I usually always take the same route to and from the university. It takes about seven minutes, and there is one alternate route about the same length. So I’ve seen one side of the medieval part of the city. What I didn’t realize that rather than being, say, one half of the walled snclosure, it was actually just a fraction of it. The old city is much much larger than I had previously realized. The walls are very extensive. I explored them.

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And then, eventually, I went inside.

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Amidst the cobbled streets and the small, cute old houses, there is a ton of history here. I mean, no duh: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. But I didn’t realize quite how much that meant. My corner of the city has mostly houses in it. This other side? There were the houses, but also a lot of much older things. There’s one cathedral which is maintained, beautiful, and still in use.

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There are many, many others which are unmaintained, beautiful, and not in use. Okay, unmaintained is not a fair characterization. They have been fixed up quite a bit. But they don’t have roofs. They are falling down, or rather they were falling down and have now been frozen in one point of the falling-down process, fixed at a certain amount of fallen-down-ness. Some have grass growing on what little roof remains. And they are open to go inside – but only from May through the summer, so I couldn’t wander in and look up at the sky through the roof of a church. In one, I took a photo through the gate barring my entrance.

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In short, I have accidentally landed in an amazing place. When my supervisor told me he worked in Visby, a satellite campus, rather than Uppsala proper… I was sad. I love Uppsala and my friends are there, and I was really sad to leave them. I had a good life there, whereas here I am almost completely solitary.

But I’m not at all sad anymore. This weekend I also took a long 2-hour run north of the city and ended up in some amazing nature areas, as well as just running along the rocky beach. This is a great, wonderful, amazing place. At least for now, I’m enjoying my solitude. Plus, I have visits from a couple of friends to look forward to, and my own trip to Portugal next week, and at least one if not more trips back to Uppsala to visit. I don’t think I’m going to be too lonely.

Final thought: paging Kate Mosse. I love southern France, but I think you could write a great book set here!

springtime of my sverige.

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In less than a week I’ll be competing in another big ski marathon. I know, I know. After the Vasaloppet, you really want to do this again, Chelsea? Well yes, I do. It’s the Birkebeiner. I’ve been excited abut the Birken for…. years. This year is no exception. I’m ready – to do whatever is possible for my body on that day, to participate, to have a great time. I know that it can’t possibly take 7 hours, since it’s only just over 50 k. So that right there means I will have significantly more fun.

But I digress – I’m going to be competing in a ski marathon. It feels surreal: these days in Uppsala have been warm and sunny. Spring came weeks ago and is not going anywhere. Winter is a distant memory.

And so in the midst of a long run I found myself standing in this magical clearing asking: where did the snow go? What did you do with it, Sweden? Which god have we offended and what can I sacrifice to appease him, or her? I’ll do it.

Don’t get me wrong, spring is lovely. It has been painful to work sitting at my desk all day, looking out the window at the sun that washes over everything and wishing that it could wash over me. I’ve been sneaking in a run here, a bounding session there, as I try to stay somewhat fit for the Birken.

Today I finally had time for a big run, and hit up my favorite place in Uppsala, Hågadalen. Just to get there, I had to make my way on a bike/pedestrian path full of happy people who were thrilled to be out in the spring weather. It was 50 degrees F and everyone was still bundled up, as if they were excited for spring but just weren’t quite sure whether they could trust it or not.

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And then, finally, I was in Håga, navigating my way through the puddles and over the rocks. I adore trail running, adore adore it. There’s something spiritual about being out there in the quiet, absorbing the peace all around you, but also focused so acutely on the little details of the treacherous ground. And yet you can’t be focused too hard. The best thing about trail running is that you achieve a sort of trance state, where you are noticing the bumps and potential trip-ups almost through your peripheral vision and your stride automagically adjusts to take them in. You’re looking, but you’re not looking. It goes deep.

For me the singletrack of Håga is almost like a cathedral, a place which distills and amplifies all those little things about trail running. The quiet is so quiet – you are surrounded my mosses and lichens which soak up the sound in their softness. And the trail is so nimble and twisty. It’s muddy and rocky and rooty and sometimes the best way is to just head off through the heather. I never come back without a scratch as a souvenir.

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And so I was happy, so happy, to be out running in Hågadalen for the first time this year. I had this sense that I belonged. It was magical, especially as I headed toward Rödmossen, where that top photo was taken. Even within Håga, which I already love, Rödmossen is one of my very most favorite places. It seems almost mystical with all that moss and lichen, a spongy sort of forest that can absorb anything. Maybe it would just soak you right up into it. I follow trail signs but always have this nagging sense that the forest has a will of its own, that it’s its own being with wishes and plans. What if there’s something out there switching the signs around? The boggy, fenny, rocky forest would make the perfect labyrinth. I can imagine twisting and turning your way through, stuck forever not knowing which direction you were going. I always think that this area would be a fantastical place for a fairy tale, and indeed these landscapes must have inspired Norse mythology.

These slightly foreboding feelings are seldom at the front of my mind, though. The forest is a happy place. And today it was a happy day, the sun seeping through the trees and me and the forest just enjoying springtime together. And yet – I didn’t belong there. It’s early March! It’s not time for this. No, it is time for skiing. I have had a few snowless late winters in my life – Eugene, Oregon; Montpellier, France – but this is something on a whole new level. It has been spring for weeks and going to Norway will be like a culture shock: white? snow? Spring is lovely, but this was not what I was expecting from Sweden.

It’s the hand I’ve been dealt, though, so I might as well go about enjoying it. Starting in Hågadalen.

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ten ways assholes can obstruct you in the vasaloppet.

I made a joke about writing this as a blog post, and Simon sounded very enthusiastic. so here it is.

1) Well, what do you think? The most basic trick in the book: he can decide to switch tracks and then not look at the track he’s switching into. So then he skis right onto your skis while he’s doing it. (Women can also do this, but since women make up a very small portion of the Vasaloppet field, everyone who cut me off was a dude. Hence, from here on, I’m just going to say “he”.)

2) A little bit worse, he can look over, see you, and then switch into your track anyway, as if he just doesn’t give a shit. “My Vasaloppet is more important than your Vasaloppet,” you can see him thinking.

3) He can ski on your pole. Even though I was consciously keeping my poles as close to my body as I could, this had to have happened well over a dozen times. Somehow, even on flat sections, in the tracks.

4) Some people just don’t want to stay in the tracks – after all, the tracks are full and the trains are just not moving fast enough for their blazing fast skiing. So they ski in between the tracks, knocking people’s elbows and generally getting in the way as they go.

5) Downhills. A lot of people in the Vasaloppet do their training by rollerskiing on the flat Swedish roads, and have no idea how to ski downhill. So they’re going, going, going on the flats, pretty fast, and then they get to the downhills and whoooooaaa!! snowplow!

6) ….or worse, they just fall down. That’s definitely getting in the way. It doesn’t help that some folks have old floppy boots from about a decade earlier that don’t give them any ankle support.

7) I saw a few (mostly older) guys with such strange form that their pole plants were reallllllly, reallllllly wide. Like, they could be in the track beside you, but their poles were getting tangled up with where you were planting your poles or maybe even your skis! That’s not a very efficient way to ski 90 k… ouch. it hurts to watch.

8) This one’s a stretch, but all those people who dropped their water bottles or feed containers in the trail. It’s not very nice to ski over a water bottle, or to have to suddenly do a little bit of a hop to avoid one. Come on! Keep the trail clean! At least throw your plastic bottles and gel containers to the side!

9) Digging a gel out of their tights or drink belt: if your poles are still attached to your hands, you have to be careful with what you are doing with those hands! Poles start waving everywhere. More than once I thought I was going to break some guy’s pole that was sticking out like a start wand across my track as he tried to find the correct energy packet in his pants.

10) And finally, this maybe isn’t obstruction, but it is hilarious. At one of the feed stations a guy took a cup of blueberry soup, and then didn’t finish it. He made a gesture sort of like he was throwing it towards the trash can or the side of the trail… but instead he just threw it straight at me. So my whole right side was coated in blueberry soup for the rest of the race. Thanks, dude!

vasaloppet.

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at the finish. photo: Simon Evans via facebook.

I did the Vasaloppet yesterday.

I didn’t really want to do to the Vasaloppet. If you’re a connoisseur of this blog you’ll know how exhausted I was after the Olympics, and how I didn’t get to ski at all while I was there or even run much at all. I came home faced with the fact that I was signed up for the 90 k Vasaloppet, which was taking place in five days. My friends who are athletes recovered from the Olympics by doing things like sleeping 17 hours in a 24 hour window. I needed to do that too, but I couldn’t because I had neglected my school duties for three weeks, and I needed to be churning out statistics and paper sections. I felt horrible and dreaded, dreaded, dreaded the Vasaloppet.

So I asked my friends: should I do it? I laid out the pros and cons.

Knowing my friends, of course they all said do it. I pretty much knew that, subconsciously, when I asked them. Like me, they live for adventure. We are the kind of people who do not want to regret thing that were left not done, never tried. So I took their advice. I went.

Susan’s wax tech, Mattias, was there waxing for an elite team and offered to let me join them, and to do my skis. It was a totally amazing experience which I wrote about for FasterSkier, here. I am so, so, so grateful to Mattias and Robin. First, it was a blast to stay with the group, who were all great and fun people. Second, there’s no way I could have organized myself for this point-to-point extravaganza, and they just took care of everything for me, thank you thank you thank you. One of Robin’s cousins was even driving to Stockholm after the race and offered to wait for me to finish and then drop me in Uppsala on his way, instead of me having to wait a few hours and take a crowded train. Seriously, these people were so nice, and they made my life so much easier. Third, Mattias prepared amazing skis for me, as he usually does for people who are actually worthy of them, like Susan. Seriously, they were magical, and if it weren’t for them I almost certainly wouldn’t have finished. As a “retired” athlete there are a very declining number of times left in my life when anyone, let alone a World Cup tech, will wax my skis for me.

All of that is an experience that I would have missed if I hadn’t done the Vasaloppet this year. And that would have been a shame. I felt so welcome, like I basically never have the entire time I have been in Sweden. They were wonderful, wonderful people.

But for the race itself, meh. It was not fun. It was fun for a little while – the start and trying to weave my way through traffic was so exhilarating! – and then moderately fun for a long while. Imagine a ski marathon that you have done, a 50 k. Then imagine that you had already skied 3 hours before the start. They were three fairly enjoyable hours, for me, but any time you think “Yes! only 50 k left to go!” something is seriously fucked up. I felt like I was doing great, and I still had an entire marathon left to ski.

And then with 30 k left to go in the 90 k race, I hit the wall, hard. Once you use up your glycogen stores it’s very difficult, basically impossible, to come back. I still had a long, long way to go. It was one of the most discouraging and painful things I have done. But I knew I had to finish because people like Mattias and Robin had gotten me to the start and been so nice to take care of me. I couldn’t disappoint them by dropping out even though I couldn’t imagine how I was going to move my body across all that distance to the finish line. It took hours and those hours felt like a lifetime.

I skied 90 k without ever, once, seeing a familiar face. Other teams had stations for food and hot drinks and wax help, and even just cheering and moral support. My little Uppsala team did not, and Robin’s team was, of course, following him to the finish hours ahead of me. That’s the price of doing a race in a foreign country. When the going gets bad, it is really, really lonely. All of which creates a feedback and makes you feel even worse.

And then there were the conditions. For more than the last half of the race, it was snow that had been bought in, and it quickly broke down into slush. There were no tracks in some places, and there was deep slush in other that tripped up racer after racer. It was a mess. One Uppsala teammate said that it was the worst conditions he had seen at the race. A lot of people dropped out, apparently. Mattias texted me to say great job for finishing, and added, “the conditions was tuff”. All of which is to say, it was not at all enjoyable skiing and for sure contributed to my demise, although of course everyone else had it just as bad and so I can’t whine too much.

There’s parts of the race that I don’t even remember.

As I wrote in the FasterSkier piece, I was aiming for between 6 and 6 1/2 hours, but it took me over 7 to finish. Hundreds if not thousands of people passed me in those 30 k. This was not what I had envisioned. And yeah – we all have bad races. Bonking happens. It’s not like I was entitled to a perfect race. But this was so far outside of the realm of un-perfect that I just wasn’t prepared for it to be so bad.

Yesterday after I finished, I was in so much pain. Things that are normal for someone who has done even a normal-length ski marathon, 42 or 50 k. My back was a knotted mess, my hip flexors were shot, my calves were tight in weird places from trying to keep my skis going straight in the slush, in those long sections of trail where the tracks were completely gone. But there were other things, things that I didn’t know could hurt from skiing. At some point the tendonitis in my elbows, which bothered me back in 2011 but only when rollerskiing on pavement, flared up again. I developed a huge blood blister across my right palm and a bruise across the back of my left hand where the pole strap crosses. When I took off my boots there were strange marks which were painful to the touch on the top of my feet from where the laces gathered. My wrists, hands, and feet hurt.

When I woke up this morning, it was worse. Both my shoulders were sore but the right one – which I dislocated in 2010 – was noticeably worse. I propped myself up on my elbow to reach for my water bottle and a searing bolt of pain told me that I had better not do that. I gingerly rotated my arm around and found that the pain was taking away a quarter of my range of motion. I have been popping ibuprofen but I have no idea what’s going on – I didn’t crash or do anything traumatic to the shoulder. It’s just not right. As I wrote to a friend in an e-mail today, it hurts even to sleep.

I guess this is my punishment for disrespecting the Vasaloppet, for thinking you can cheat by not training, and somehow get away with it. The Vasaloppet is not something to be trifled with.

In one sense, I really wish that I had not picked this year as my Vasaloppet year. I don’t think I’ll come back to this race again, so this is my only memory of it. I had no illusions about even turning in a good time, but I did dream of celebrating as I crossed the finish line in Mora. I wanted to pull an Erik Bjornsen and do a rodeo pole-wave even though I finished in the middle of the field. I wanted to feel that rush. But in this race I felt so bad that I think I basically just coasted across the line. I felt shell-shocked. I wasn’t even absorbing the surroundings. It’s one of the only races I’ll ever do where there is a grandstand watching the finish line on main street – and I didn’t appreciate it.

If I had come some other year, some year when maybe I had to pay for a plane ticket to get here, there would have been no cheating in my prep. I’m sure the race still would have been very hard – a 90 k race is never not hard – but I probably would have had a more positive experience. I would have enjoyed it more.

Sometimes you have to question your attitude. I think that I’m invincible, that I can do anything – well, okay, I won’t do well in the Vasaloppet, but of course I’ll finish, it will just be slow but still fun! No, in fact, it’s not that simple. Some things you do for adventure are not good adventures. You don’t have to take every single opportunity as it comes – you can plan out how to have the best and most meaningful opportunities. Sometimes I sign myself up for too much just to get the experience, but then the experiences aren’t as great.

But, life is life, and this was my Vasaloppet, prep or no. Despite all the misery, I have some good memories too. Being part of a start of 15,800 skiers all going at once is quite a unique feeling that you can only get at this one place in the world. That’s something to be happy about, as is the feeling that I can be adopted by a community of nice Swedish people who don’t know me or even know anything about me. It’s a comfort.

Although part of me wishes I hadn’t gone, it’s not all of me. Good or bad, these are the memories I get to keep.

quick trip to visby.

I have been meaning to write something about my last day in Ruhpolding, as it was lovely… not sure if I’ll ever get around to it. Life is busy! I moved to Uppsala successfully and am living in a beautiful flat with my friends Marta and Johanna. It’s so great to be back in Sweden. On Thursday I competed in the district championship relay team with my little club here, Uppsala Vasaloppsklub. Our team was: Christina, who could be in the 35+ age division but we didn’t have any other women interested in racing, so she competed in the 17+ division with us – she’s good; Karin, who is also good but is also quite pregnant!; and me, anchoring. They classic skied, I skated. It was the first time that UVK ever had a women’s relay team so we were really really excited just to be there competing. We finished third! The race was at night which is always fun as you feel like you’re really zooming along when it’s dark out, just flitting between the lights on the trail.

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Photo by Jon Orvendal who was sick and couldn’t race, so he came to watch and was SO frustrated not to be skiing. I really had so much fun being back with my skiing friends!

Anyway, besides that, I made a quick trip to Gotland, a large Swedish island in the Baltic. My supervisor lives and works there on a separate campus of Uppsala University, so I was there for two days. It was quite productive as we finished one manuscript which is getting ready for submission, and started working with the dataset for the next two papers. Also I got to see some of the city, which is a really cool old place. The city walls are from the 1200s and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As my supervisor lives there, you’ll hear much more about my future trips to Visby as well. It’s just a 45 minutes flight from Stockholm or you can take a ferry. Based on my first visit, a highly recommended destination!

Click photos to enlarge.