Colorado

Do It: Pine Creek Camping

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Growing up in the Midwest, I thought I had a pretty good appreciation for fall, and particularly fall foliage. And then I moved to Colorado. There’s nothing like a grove of aspens alight with yellow, not to mention an entire mountainside of color. The drive from Denver to Buena Vista via 285 is better than a fireworks show. At Kenosha Pass cars lined the road as people stopped to snap photos.

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We departed Watershed Ranch just before 5pm. Our first leg involved a Jeep trip about 3 miles up an old mining road. From there we hiked 2 miles up, to where Pine Creek meets the Colorado Trail. We arrived right around sunset, built a fire, set up camp, prepared dinner, and gazed at the stars. This was baby Henry’s first camping experience, at 8-months old (Henry’s parents own Watershed Ranch).

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Our campsite was at 10,000 feet, and temperatures probably dipped to the upper 30’s by early morning. I made myself stay in my tent until a little after 6am, and then got up to watch sunrise. This alone was worth the trip. I hiked in a mile or so, to enjoy the light. Two moose walked through the meadow just in front of me.

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After oatmeal and baby prep, we departed camp around 9am. We hiked the Pine Creek Trail to a small falls, snacked and relaxed before retracing our steps back to camp. We did 8.2 miles all-in, and topped out around 11,300 feet.

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After breaking camp and packing up, we hiked the remaining 2 miles to the Jeep and were back at the ranch around 3pm. Perfect weather, peak fall color, and good company = pretty great backpacking weekend. Until next time, Collegiate Peaks!

Race/Fondo Report: Buffalo Bicycle Classic--Epic to Estes

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About a month ago I was feeling like I should have signed up for one more triathlon this season. Last year I had the Harvest Moon Long-Course, but this year I didn't really want to do another Boulder Reservoir race. I searched for cycling events instead, and found the Buffalo Classic. In its 16th year, 100% of the money from this ride funds Colorado student scholarships at the University of Colorado. There are a LOT of choices for this event, which allows almost anyone to participate. I decided to go for the toughest option: 100 miles with 8,000 feet of climb. Called the "Epic to Estes," it is aptly named. 

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Only the first 18-miles of the ride (up Boulder Canyon to Nederland) are considered a race, though I tried to ride pretty hard for the whole thing. I came away with 12th-place female and 4th in my age group. This was my first time riding up the canyon and it was a huge perk to have the road closed to traffic for that initial climb. 

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Overall, this race is really well organized. The start was right around 7am as planned (60-degrees to start the day off), and the aid stations throughout were amazing. I stopped at the snack area in Estes and was surprised to find fresh fruit, PB&J, and tons of Honey Stinger and Skratch products. I made a couple other quick stops in Lyons and at Diagonal Highway, just to fill up water. By the time I got to the last ten miles (around 1pm) it was probably around 85-degrees. 

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I was also really impressed with the signage: there are directional signs for the riders, but also TONS of signs up for vehicle traffic, to make them aware of the cyclists. They obviously can't close 100-miles of roadway, but the signage definitely made me feel safer. 

Awesome day, great weather, and amazing views of early fall foliage. I will definitely do this event again. 

 

David Byrne: American Utopia Tour at Red Rocks

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My first real concert was the Grateful Dead with Sting. I went with my parent and their friends when I was 12. After that, I was hooked. In high school I spent all of my newspaper-delivery and ice-cream-scooping money on concert tickets. When I was in graduate school, I wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper reviewing shows and new albums. (Having a press-pass is totally the way to see a show). Every year of my adult life, I've seen several shows at various venues throughout the country. 

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That's all to say, David Byrne at Red Rocks was the best show I've ever seen. David Byrne will give you everything you need. Before Byrne and his band came out, the crew mopped the stage so that everyone could go barefoot. Byrne is 66-years-old, and he's got moves. The entire set was theatrical: like a musical of David Byrne's life, played by himself. Everyone is free to move: no instrument is tethered. They are never just standing facing the audience. They are always facing each other, or dancing, or acting out a scene. David Byrne approaches art as though it's alive: not as a thing to just watch. And you can't watch this man, and his group, without dancing, whatever that means for you. If you want a long version of my affinity for David Byrne, I put it in an essay a few years ago

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As Byrne and the band played, "This Must Be the Place," a gigantic red moon rose behind them. Probably 40% of the setlist consisted of Talking Heads songs. The rest were covers and new music. One of my favorites from the new album is "I Dance Like This," and the live rendition was a highlight of the night. 

Byrne ended the show with "Burning Down the House," and honestly, it doesn't get better than that. 

Broadmoor Pike's Peak Hill Climb Gran Fondo

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12.42 miles, 156 turns, start elevation 9,390 feet, finish elevation 14,115 feet = 4,725 feet of climb at an average grade of 7%. 

We got an Airbnb and stayed about 30 minutes from the start, which was good considering my wave went off at 6:15am. Sunrise in the mountains was amazing. The weather was perfect: almost no wind, mid-40s at the start and mid-30s at the top. I wore light gloves and a super light wind jacket. I packed a heavy jacket and heavier gloves for the descent (a shuttle took drop bags to the top) and was pretty much perfect for the whole experience. 

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There were only about 20 women in the fondo, which I still don't really understand (why isn't this climb more popular?!) There were over 100 guys. I had no real expectations for my time, though I've been training on hills quite a bit (mostly because I just love to climb). For the first 5 miles I was back and forth between 2nd and 3rd place. Then for the rest I was back and forth between 3rd and 5th. I think I came away with 4th place, but mostly I just had a great time. The switchbacks are awesome. The last two miles are by far the toughest: not only are you nearing 14,000 feet, but it's got to be above 9% at that point. 

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I'm definitely ready to do this again. My time on the climb was 2:03:47. So, obviously I need to get sub-2. For a first-timer, I couldn't have asked for a better day. 

Race Report: Parker 2.4 Mile Open Water Swim

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First of all, I didn't race this: I just did it. This was my first open water swim at this distance, and while I knew I could do it, I wasn't interested in speed. But also, the weather was a bit nuts. I woke at 4:45am to drive from Loveland to Parker. I arrived at 6:15am and made my way to the beach. The last 10 miles or so of the drive were incredibly foggy. It was my first time to Parker, so I didn't really know where I was going: luckily the directions were very easy to follow (it's right off I25). 

When I arrived at check-in, people were just standing around, clearly worried about the visibility. Race director Lance Panigutti got on the loud-speaker and assured everyone that we WOULD be swimming, even if that meant going in lots of small circles instead of the planned 1.2-mile loop. At that point we couldn't even see the first buoy in the water, and he admitted that they had gotten turned around in the boat just trying to place the second buoy. 

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After a delay of 30 minutes, Lance announced that we were going to start at 7:35am: the fog had lifted a bit, but was settling back in. They had managed to set the planned course: an out and back counter-clockwise 1.2-mile loop. The water temperature was 72-degrees, and the air temperature was 56-degrees, so it felt better being in the water than standing on shore. I felt warmed up at the start, and wasn't at all nervous--I was just there to try the distance. I didn't taper in any way for this event, so I had been doing plenty of swimming, biking, and running all week. By the time I got to the middle of the course, I had to pop my head up and stop swimming a few times. Others around me also stopped swimming, realizing we could no longer see any buoys. Some people started yelling for the folks on the SUPs to get directions. The fog was very heavy again. As long as you weren't trying for a specific time, it was pretty funny. 

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By the time I started the second loop of the 1.2-mile course, things were much clearer. It's amazing how much faster you can go when you can see where you're going! The last 1K yards were great: I could see, the water was amazing, and the sun was coming out. I'm getting ready for a trip to Hawaii next week, and am signed up to do an ocean swim at a similar length, so I'm glad I know what it feels like. 

Parker (Rueter-Hess Reservoir) is beautiful, and this water is the cleanest I've been in. I'd definitely do this event again, hopefully with visibility for the entire swim!

Something I Learned: Balance

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Two years ago I gave up alcohol and rest days, and I've never felt better. Spoiler alert: the key was living at elevation in a place so beautiful it demands activity. Also, I discovered that speeding up recovery times and doing not only a variety of activities but a variety of combinations of activities equals less real rest.  

I spent a lot of years (like, 12 years) running between 40 and 70 miles a week. (Sometimes more). Each day was essentially the same. Out the door within 10 minutes of waking for as many miles as I felt like going. I usually took a rest day every 10-14 days, usually after a longer or tougher run. Sometimes I pushed it to 3 weeks. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. Sometimes I planned what I'd do the night before, and sometimes I'd just see where my feet took me: hills, long slow distance, to the track, the park, etc. But I also started getting chronic stress fractures in my metatarsals. I am HORRIBLE at being injured. Anyone who knows me well, without hesitation, will confirm. I have a really, really hard time being still. I got so many stress fractures that I invested in my own "boot," and would throw it on for a few weeks whenever I felt the burning pain in my foot bones. 

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But eventually I was sick of sacrificing even 5 or 6 weeks a year to heal my feet. I decided to spend more time on my bike, in the pool, and generally doing things other than running to get my fix. When I moved from New York City to Colorado in June of 2016, I first moved to Leadville: a town that sits at 10,200 feet. For people coming from life at sea-level, even 5,000 feet of altitude takes some adjustment; but 2-miles high can be straight-up scary. It took most of 2 months before I could run 3 miles without stopping to catch my breath. For a while, just walking and talking was a real workout. Swimming was ridiculous: a rest after every 50 meters. Each morning for the first month, I woke feeling hung over, even if I hadn't been drinking. And when I was drinking, it usually wasn't more than a beer or two before I'd feel sick. 

Going from NYC to Leadville was kind of like being injured, and I wanted to get better. I decided I'd give up alcohol entirely until I was used to the altitude. But after one month of a clear head and no alcohol, I dared myself to go a year. Honestly, after a year of no drinking, it wasn't even something I thought about. I'm pretty good at discipline: almost to a fault. If I give something up, it's just gone: not an option. I also noticed that I woke each day ready for adventure. I was discovering so many things to do that I had a constantly growing list. Two years later, my list is still very long. Just this weekend I started looking into kayaking lessons, and I totally want to surf the Buena Vista river park.

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I also made my vow because something really bad happened to a friend of mine involving alcohol. So there was a secondary drive of solidarity in the decision. Around that time I remember hearing someone on the radio say something like, "If you can't get through a day, week, month, year without alcohol because you think it makes things more fun, then you might just be a really boring, uncreative person." I remember being offended at the time, and then a little scared that they were right. Now, I totally agree. 

Obviously I'm not against rest: I usually rotate which disciplines I'm going hard in from week to week. For my first year of triathlon, I worked with a coach to learn how to pair activities together. A hard run in the morning and an easy swim in the afternoon. A long bike ride the next day and a short swim in the evening. Occasionally a trail run in the early morning and a short/hard hill ride in the afternoon. And then skiing, rock climbing, rowing, and SUP-ing every once in a while for a different kind of core strength. With so many days of double-duty, the body learns to recover quickly. I found that several two-a-days followed by a day or two with only one activity, feels like vacation. And if I've gone really hard for a while, or am just feeling drained, a hike with the pup or an easy swim feels better than doing nothing. So, rest is good, but variety and active recovery has been the name of the game for me. Basically, I just never want to miss a day outside. 

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I'm also not totally anti-alcohol. I fully support kicking your feet up with a cold beer or cocktail if that's your thing. Des Linden and Linsey Corbin are absolute heroes of mine, and both are known for their ability to recover with a libation. But for me, relaxing has come to include things that make me feel recovered instead of in need of recovery. Relaxing these days means hammock time, garden time, and falling asleep on the couch to a movie. 

Do it: Century Ride (7,200 ft of climb)

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Sometimes you've just got to do something epic. It's been several weeks since I've done a ride over 60 miles, so I decided to do a full century. I got up at 5am and was on the road by 5:30. My favorite breakfast in the world is a Clif bar on the spin. The road to Brainard Lake has been under construction for several months, and just reopened last week. Anyone who bikes in the Boulder area knows that the ride to Ward is a long, tough climb, and then adding Brainard Lake is 6 more miles and about 1,200 more feet of gain. This last push is all above 10,000 feet, and has a dizzying effect. After a sunrise spin around Carter Lake, I got down to business. I took Highway 7 (Peak to Peak) from Lyons through the canyon. (I especially love the detour that goes through Raymond: this is my favorite route in the fall when the Aspens are changing). Then came the climb to Ward, and that extra push to Brainard. 

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I find that breaking a long ride into little pieces helps me enormously with the mental game. For me, this ride was: Home to Lyons, Lyons to Raymond, Raymond to Ward, Ward to Brainard, Brainard to Boulder. It's been super warm in Colorado, but I thought it would be nice and cool up above 8,000 feet. It was cooler, but not cool. This was still a sweaty, sweaty ride. 

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I assumed I was over-packing when I stocked my pockets with 2 Clif bars, 3 gels, and a pack of Shot Bloks, in addition to 2 water bottles with Skratch. I ended up eating both bars, 1 gel, and the pack of Bloks over 7 hours in the saddle. I ran out of water entirely around the time I was starting the Brainard stretch (mile 56). I've hiked this area before, and remembered that there are some camp faucets. Luckily, I found one at the campground about 2 miles in. I was pretty dehydrated at that point. I kind of love the feeling of going so hard that nothing in the world is better than water.  

All in, this was an incredible ride start to finish. The views at Brainard are truly a reward worthy of 7,200 feet of climb, serious sweat, and dehydration. And the descent on Lefthand is like pudding. As soon as I got to Boulder, I took a dip at the pool, showered, and drank a LOT of seltzer. Stay epic, Colorado!

Race Report: Boulder Peak 2018

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For the past two years, as soon as this race is over, I tell myself: don't sign up for this race next year--it's too hot. But then the scorching heat is replaced by the cool Boulder weather we love, and I only think, That's such an epic race, I have to do it again! So I'm writing this here, to remind myself: it's an epic race, and it's almost always the hottest week of the year. Here are my details:

The morning before the race I did a shake-out open-water swim with no wetsuit. It was the first time in a long time that I had gone that far without a wetsuit. And honestly, it felt great. More range of motion, nice and cool, and I oddly felt faster. I swam around 1,200 yards, and decided I'd try a race without a wetsuit. (This is where most people opt for a speed suit, but I don't have one). What I didn't take into account was, I was alone in a calm lake on my rehearsal swim....that's very different from race morning chaos. (I have been swimming with the open-water crew at Horsetooth for the past several weeks, but always in a wetsuit). I learned my lesson. And that lesson is, the wetsuit is my friend: take the wetsuit. It just cuts down on so much fatigue. As I was swimming in only my tri suit, I kept feeling like I was having a panic attack. It wasn't a complete disaster, but my pace was 1:46/100 yards where I was hoping for 1:38 or faster. I tried to put it behind me as I entered T1 and remembered I didn't have to strip a wetsuit. T1 = 2:33 

This year they did the waves by gender, which was different from last year. First, the elites, then all of the men (youngest to oldest), and then the women. At first, being in wave 10 had me worried I wouldn't begin until 8am: they said they were going to leave 5 minutes between waves, but only ended up leaving 2 minutes. I started right around 7:25am. 

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I'm still earning my street-cred as a cyclist in Colorado, and I've been doing a LOT of climbing. I don't have a tri bike because I honestly can't rationalize it. I think of myself as a swimmer, a biker, and a runner, but only mediocre at the actual triathlon. Nonetheless, I honestly think the road bike is a better choice for this race. I passed A TON of tri bikes on the way up Olde Stage, and really for the entire first 8-miles of the race. (I still can't believe that some people unclip and walk up this not-at-all-enormous hill). There's actually no better feeling than whizzing by someone on a crazy-expensive tri bike and aero helmet as a roadie. After the Olde Stage climb, there's a 35 mph speed zone. But...it's really just for safety. The rest of the course is rolling and fast. I made myself eat two gels on the bike, and my entire bottle of water. The heat was getting intense even on the bike. My pace was 18.1 mph for a 1 hour 24 minute split. 

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T2 = 1:37  The run at Boulder Reservoir is almost entirely exposed. I'm a huge fan of the crushed gravel, but this is a brutal course. Almost everyone I saw was stopping at each mile for water. I stopped at most aid stations myself. It was too hot to risk serious dehydration. I actually felt really good for the entire run. I think I could have pushed harder and probably come away with at least a 7:45 pace, but I played it safe and was satisfied with a 7:55 pace for a 48-minute split. 12th out of 27 in my category (but with the second fastest run), 45th woman out of 200. 

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Overall, this is a great race. The heat is always a factor. I would love to race this course in late-September or October. My time last year was right around the 3-hour mark, and this year it was 2:49, so I'm stoked that I trimmed it down, despite the swim. I don't know if I'll race this again (I probably will). The Withoutlimits crew is so great. Everything about the race organization is always awesome. And there's nothing better than a slip-n-slide finish!

Nutrition: Peanut Powder

For a long time I thought smoothies were what people ate/drank when they were trying to be "healthy" but really just wanted a milkshake. Now I know that wanting a milkshake is actually fine, and smoothies are always delicious. 

I bought a Ninja 1,000-watt blender a few months ago at Costco. I made a few smoothies with frozen fruit and fruit juice. I bought some Vega protein powder. They were fine: refreshing and healthy. It all lasted about 2 weeks. Until...I discovered powdered peanut butter. When I first saw this stuff (years ago), I rolled my eyes. I didn't get it. I thought it was for people to take backpacking. But then it finally dawned on me: IT'S FOR SMOOTHIES. Now I'm researching if it's okay to live on peanut powder and banana smoothies for all meals of the day. I highly recommend the PB + banana combo with almond milk as the liquid, but I've also mixed in cherries, and all kinds of berries. Nothing I've tried it with has been bad. 

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The nutrition breakdown on the peanut powder is: 2 tablespoons (which is a LOT of powder) contains 50 calories,  1.5 grams of fat (zero saturated fat), 95 mg of sodium, 5 grams of protein, and only 2 grams of sugar. It's like the perfect "food." (I'm in no way against regular peanut butter, the powder is just super amazing for mixing). 

Especially on hot days (it's already been in the 90s in Colorado more than I remember from the past two summers), smoothies are the way to go. I sometimes have a hard time eating after a hot workout, but I will drink all the liquids. 

Nutrition: From the Garden

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When I was in first-grade, my mother let me help her build a garden in our side yard. It was a raised box, probably 10' x 10'. We had 4 different kinds of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and basil. Probably other things things too, but all I really remember is that we had SO MANY tomatoes and peppers that my mother took bags to all the neighbors, and gave some to the mailman. I didn't even like tomatoes back then, but was so proud of our garden, that I tried them on everything. 

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When I was in graduate school, I lived in what seemed at the time like a tiny apartment; that was before I had lived in New York City. My friend and I bought a plot at the community garden and spent a couple evenings a week tending to it. That was the first time I had planted potatoes: they were amazing. So creamy and earthy. We also grew Brussels sprouts and all kinds of herbs. We attempted baby eggplants, but they never came up. But, the old woman with the plot next to ours had beautiful eggplants all summer. 

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I grew window-box herbs at our 4th-floor walk-up in Harlem. The box overlooked our fire-escape and 146th Street. It wasn't much, but I still loved adding fresh basil to homemade pizza. 

Now that we have a ton of room in Colorado, we're growing all kinds of things. We just keep adding. In the raised box we have strawberries, peppers, 2 kinds of basil, tomatoes, arugula, onions, and garlic. We also have a little plot of squash and zucchini, two more pots of tomatoes, an area of potatoes, and I just put in pumpkins. Everything is coming along pretty well so far. We've sampled the basil and arugula: so good. I forgot how peppery fresh arugula is. I've really got my fingers crossed for everything else. It's trial and error this year, but I'm looking forward to some hearty garden meals. Throughout my life, everything I've ever grown has tasted infinitely better than store-bought; but also, it looks and smells better. Grow what you can where you are: if you ever have too much, give it away!

Do It: Round Mountain Recreation Trail

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Outside Magazine just (re)featured an article about the sometimes-secret gems that are state parks. National Parks get all the glory, and rightfully so--they're generally the most awe-inspiring places in the nation--but there's a lot of other good land, too. 

To get to the summit of Sheep Mountain on the Round Mountain Recreational Trail, you take the "Summit Adventure" route. The trailhead and parking lot are 4 miles west of the Dam Store in Loveland, Colorado--on US 34 along the Big Thompson River. 

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The first mile of the trek offers views of the Big Thompson and US 34, which are pretty cool considering the completion of the new road. Then you switchback farther into the wilderness, and things quiet down. I like hikes like this because the payoff of the uphill is just being able to see farther and farther. You'll come to a split rock, and a spring, and mile markers, but the reward is just being present: seeing Rocky Mountain in the distance. 

Buy your pass to the national parks for sure; but also, soak up what's just down the road and maybe not as popular. 

Do It: 12,183 Feet

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High Point on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park sits at 12,183 feet, which makes it not only the highest pass in Colorado, but also the highest continuous motorway in the United States. More than 8 miles of the road are above 11,000 feet. Each spring, for a few weeks, Trail Ridge is open to cyclists and pedestrians, but not to cars. This time is spent readying the visitor centers, getting water pumping at the restrooms, and generally maintaining the park. It's also, obviously, the best time to be up there. 

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I recently biked from the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (which sits at 8,400 feet) up to High Point, and around the top area--which is like being on another planet. The trees disappear, the snow on both sides of the road grows higher than can be seen over, and the air is thin. A little over forty miles and 5,000 feet of gain all in. There was some wind at the top, but I've driven the road when the wind was far worse. Overall, it was the quiet that impressed me. 

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The majority of other cyclists I saw at the top were women, which is not usually the case on the roads that I frequent. I met a group of 3 women who (like me) were biking it for the first time, and another woman who was going all the way from Granby to Estes on a bike that looked to weigh almost as much as she did. She had clearly been camping for a while. A thing I've learned is that women in Colorado are not afraid to do challenging feats alone. 

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I bought an annual pass for Rocky Mountain and all the rest of the national parks when I entered. Now more than ever, it seems vital that we maintain and support these treasures. I only live about 30-miles from Rocky Mountain, but every time I enter the park, it feels like such an escape. And any time spent above 11,000 is just automatically dream-like. It's important to be in these places: to feel small and get a little scare from the sheer size of everything else. 

 

Nutrition: Home Brew

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Most people have something that they're willing to spend money on, even when they don't have money to spend: small vices--things that make us feel extravagant. Cigars, alcohol, chocolate, shoes. For me, it's kombucha. (I mean, I spend money I don't have on plenty of other things, too...usually cycling socks, cycling caps, and sunglasses). But kombucha is stupid expensive, and I buy it. On-tap, some of the cool new places in hip mountain towns charge more than $5 a glass! I rationalize it by reminding myself that I *don't* smoke cigars, drink alcohol, or care much at all about a shoe collection. Still, once I became the person buying the family-sized bottles of kombucha at Sprouts, I decided I should try my own hand at making it. 

Back in the day, my mother made her own yogurt, so I figured I had it in me to do this. Some friends gave me a "scoby" (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) or "mother" and that's maybe the best gift I've ever received. The scoby is...super gross: slimy and unappealing to look at or imagine ingesting in any way. And it grows. But also, it's super amazing! When put in a broth of tea and sugar, it creates a delicious effervescent beverage that's claimed to help everything in the body, but at the very least just tastes good.  

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I've experimented quite a bit over the last 2 months. The first batch I tossed entirely. It was like pure vinegar. I hadn't put enough sugar in. The second batch was better but I didn't let it sit long enough before refrigerating, so it was mostly flat. But now it's getting good. I've been brewing 5 tea-bags of earl grey black tea with at least a half cup of white sugar. I let that sit for a day or two and then add it to the scoby. I test it with a straw after 10 days, but it can sit for up to 2 weeks. Then I add a little honey to individual bottles (recycled from purchased kombucha before I was in the brewing biz). I pour the 2-week-old concoction into the small bottles and let it chill. The earl grey and the honey work really well together. Next I'm going to start adding some fruits to the 2-week sit. 

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I'm making a gallon (or 6-8 small bottles) of kombucha for less than I was spending on one at the store. Which is nuts. I've also started making my own hummus in big batches. So...I guess it's clear that I live in Colorado is what I'm saying. And that now I can buy more cycling caps. Let me know if you have any tips for kombucha! I'm excited to try new ideas/flavors. 

Do It: Open Water

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Until I moved to Colorado, the only open water "swimming" I did in my lifetime consisted of dips in lakes and rivers, and occasional trips to the ocean. Always a source of refreshment, rarely a source of endurance. When I worked summers on a ranch in Montana, the snow would melt and feed a fast-moving creek that eventually ran into the Yellowstone River. On scorching July afternoons, everyone would line up on a bridge over the creek and try to work up the courage to jump in. Instant pins-and-needles cold. You'd get just enough time submerged to desperately want to feel the heat of the sun again. 

In Colorado, though, open-water is sport. Last June, my first triathlon was a sprint: on the first Saturday in June. I rented a wetsuit a few times in May to test things out. Each of my trials lasted no more than 10 minutes. The first time I went in, the water was 48-degrees. I instantly thought of the creek in Montana. On race day, the water was reported to be 60-degrees, but I think that was an exaggeration: it still very literally took my breath away. 

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After that first race, I purchased my own wetsuit, and swam many, many more times: I joined an open-water club. By the time I got to my final triathlon in September, I felt like an old pro. My favorite open water swims were early mornings at Carter Lake even before the fishing boats were out. The water was calm and cool and quiet. This year the local lakes are already reporting in at 67-degrees. These days, in general, I'm less afraid of the cold and more intimidated by the heat. I dipped my toes in with my pup the other day, and it was far warmer than pins-and-needles. The pup is just barely a year old: we adopted him last August, and he was too small to really get in the water then. Last week, though, he was VERY excited to splash and play. I'm looking forward to taking him to some early-morning swims. I'm looking forward to spending even more time in Colorado's beautiful water. 

Do It: Gold Hill, Colorado

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Ten miles outside of downtown Boulder, Colorado is a step back in time. Mapleton Avenue changes to Sunshine Canyon Drive; after about 6 miles of winding pavement, it switches to dirt, and then gravel. By the time you reach Gold Hill, you've climbed over 3,000 feet. A sign greets travelers with all the relevant statistics: Established in 1859, elevation 8,463 feet, population 118. There's a store and an inn and a school. There are old dogs wandering the road. There's probably some lingering snow piled up. Cyclists know to stuff a jacket in their pocket as it's usually 10-20 degrees cooler up top. 

There are several options up to the old mining town: a road from all four directions. I've climbed up two of the roads, descended one, and still have one on my list. Lickskillet is the steepest county road in the United States, and after going down twice on a road bike, it's still solidly outside of my comfort zone. Even riding the breaks the entire way, you slide and skid down the gravel. It's one-mile of between 15-20% grade. But, it empties onto the smooth-as-pudding Lefthand Canyon Drive, where coasting back to town at 30 mph feels absolutely luxurious. 

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I recently "raced" the pavement of Sunshine Canyon, which means I went all-out and had an average pace of just 8 mph. Then I meandered the rest of the way on the dirt to the top. I can't really explain why I love these mining towns so much. The thin air, the reminders of striking it rich, the old general store that's been selling coffee and treats for over 150 years: it all feels like a treasure--like I've done something impressive just in getting here. 

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I can't wait to keep climbing these roads. Eventually I'll make it up Lickskillet. Eventually I'll take the longest route and hit two mining towns in one trip. There's still gold up here: even just in the experience of the trip.  

Something I Learned: Slowing the Pace

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Trail running has always sort of intimidated me. But, anything I'm not really good at intimidates me. I tend to be a one-pace person. That pace has changed over the years, but generally I go x-minute miles with only about 20 seconds difference. Ever.

I grew up running with no devices and never really worried about numbers. When I went to college, my father got me a Timex watch that had one feature: a timer. I went out for between 40 and 50 minutes each morning during the week, and 80 to 100 minutes on the weekend. I ran every day and didn't even know how fast I was going. I drove routes in my old Chevy Lumina, in order to have some idea what the milage was. When I started running cross-country, everything was new to me. Tempo, fartlek, repeats. The only "speed" work I did with my father was sprinting to the end of each run: maybe 100-200 yards. 

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Because speed work wasn't how I was born into running, I feel like I always sort of dreaded it. Each first day of practice after a break from school, my college coach would have us run a timed mile. I never stopped running during breaks, so it wasn't a big deal for me. But my teammates (whether they did their own conditioning or not) would run so hard they'd vomit. I never got that: I never went that hard. 

I've given trail running a few chances here and there, but recently I think I'm finally GETTING it: like being a kid again. Pace doesn't really matter. Or, not like it does on flat land. There's zero consistency. Get up the hill (or, mountain), recover, and fly down the other side. It's. So. Much. Fun. I've been getting up earlier and earlier to be the only one at Devil's Backbone in Loveland, Colorado. The first-light sun on the rocks is always stunning. There are several different trail options, and all give way to views of Rocky Mountain National Park--namely, Long's Peak. 

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I like the concentration of being on the trails: it's actually freeing. There's so much to think about (rocks, foot placement, climbs, mud, grass...rattle snakes) that you can't get wrapped up in anything else. Nothing can clutter the mind except the trails. And I'm totally fine with my miles spanning at least 3-minutes on the trails: it all balances out. 

Something I Learned: Swim Stroke

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Swimming is like writing: most people have been doing it in some capacity since they were children, so they assume they know everything there is to it. Not so. Both take a lot of practice. With both, you tend to be surprised that you've been doing something wrong your entire life. 

My brother and I took swim lessons from the time we were very young. We pretty much lived at the pool--indoor and out, winter and summer--with our house just blocks away from an athletic club. All the workers knew us by name. Then, when we were a little older, we took private lessons and even diving lessons (I never did really nail the back flip). Over the summer of 4th grade I joined a team: I entered every event listed and came away with blue ribbons most of the time. As I got older, swimming became something I only really did when I was injured from running, which meant I started to look at it as punishment. Where running and biking were adventures, swimming was always just a workout. 

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When I moved to Colorado, I became more serious about triathlons. Which meant I had to really consider how much I knew about my stroke. I started improving pretty quickly, mostly because my husband swam in college and often gave me things to think about, and occasionally wrote my workouts. 

But it wasn't until I joined a Masters team that things started clicking. I took a private lesson and felt like I was in grade school all over again. I watched video of my position in the water, and a few times we even put mirrors at the bottom of the pool to see the full stroke. The other game-changer was investing in FINIS Agility Paddles. I found out that my literal weakness was not following through with my stroke. In a lot of ways, I was going through the motions but not really putting my muscles to the test. With my stroke, it's as though I've been riding in the small chainring for years, and just discovered the power of the bigger ring. Today we did a lot of pulling: the FINIS paddles are so nice because they're just slightly larger than your hand but they force so much more work to happen. Swimming is finally (almost) as fun as biking and running. 

 

Gear: Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon wheels

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I've got friends who seem to buy bikes more often than I buy running shoes (and I buy a decent amount of running shoes). I get the whole N+1 theory, and there are certainly bikes I'd like to buy, but instead of purchasing a whole new package, I decided I'd upgrade my current frame a little at a time.

Twelve years ago, I purchased my first decent road bike: a Fuji Roubaix 1.1. I studied up, talked to local shops, and then was fitted for it at a locally-owned store that I trust. Then...I moved to NYC. After less than a month in Brooklyn, my bike was stolen. When I went to the police, they essentially laughed and told me that professional thieves can pop a U-lock in between 2 and 8 seconds (they showed me how). Professional thieves? I was heart-broken: my first NYC scar. I bought an all-black $500 Fuji Feather single-speed with zero bells and whistles to commute on, and a $90 Kryptonite lock. I used my bike for transportation only. 

After a few more years in the city, I decided to look into road bikes again. I tested several out, but really just wanted my Roubaix. I found a Fuji dealer in Manhattan and they got me my bike. I vowed never to let it out of my sight: never to lock it at all. If I had to go indoors anywhere, I carried it on my shoulder. I started doing some bigger rides up 9W and with the local Rapha club

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When I moved to Colorado, though, that's when I really started biking. That's when I fell in love with big, long climbs. I live between Fort Collins and Boulder, which means access to some of the best roads/hills in the Front Range. I met some great people via Strava, and got some advice on parts. Over the past several months I've added the following: SRAM Force Outer Ring, SRAM Powerglide Inner Ring (34Tx110mm), Shimano Ultegra RD-R8000 Rear Derailleur, Shimano Ultegra CS-8000 11 speed cassette, Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon wheels, Specialized Power Expert saddle. This setup is like a new bike, but with the frame I've come to, and continue to love. I can't recommend the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon wheels enough. Fully carbon wheels are insane. Basically, no matter what bike you buy, unless you're spending more than I did on my last car, you're probably going to get crappy wheels: it's how bike manufacturers save/make money. Straight up: the wheel upgrade is the best thing you can do for any bike. 

Due thanks

Even though I said I'm not doing any recaps this year, I am feeling especially fortunate, and want to shout-out the ones who helped me so much in 2017. It was our first full year in Colorado, and we wouldn't be here without Katy Welter and Rick Bieterman.  

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It was my first year as a "triathlete," and I couldn't have done it without such a great race series and amazing local support. I got a ton of super helpful advice from my friend and superstar athlete, Lydia Dobbs! I also got a lot of (unknowing) support from the professional female athletes that I admire so much: Linsey Corbin, Rachel JoyceRachel McBride, Flora Duffy, and Shalane Flanagan. And some much needed and appreciated knowledge from Triathlon Taren. Above all, I have to thank Douglas Light for his ongoing incredible support. He gets up at ridiculous hours to drive me to races. He makes me delicious meals after long rides and runs. He forces me to go to the hospital when I'm so dehydrated I can't even keep water down (oops). He teaches me how to lift weights to get stronger. He cheers for me, and never, ever stops saying "I know you can do it."  

Here's my year in sports: thanks to Strava for making these cool videos! 

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Also, big thanks to All Aboard Rescue, for bringing Ten Paws up from Texas so he could make our lives even more hilarious and nonstop. Onward! 

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Mild Temperatures and Masters Swimming

Dirt roads, snow-capped mountains

Dirt roads, snow-capped mountains

I must have done something to please the weather gods, because the fall has continued to be amazing. The thing that Colorado is really good at is the 30 (and sometimes even 40)-degree temperature span. These last few weeks have been mornings in the 30s and afternoons in the 60s. Save for the sun beginning to set at 4:30pm, it's basically perfect. 

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I've done a few morning rides in lobster-claw gloves, and even more afternoon rides in short bibs. The afternoon sun is glorious. I've also been riding a lot of dirt, which means almost entirely empty stretches with incredible views. There are ways for cars to easily avoid these roads, so they do. Seeing the snow-capped Rocky Mountains has not gotten old. 

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But, winter is coming. Ski season starts next week. The magazine that I test products for is sending me waterproof, heavy-duty gear. I should, in reality, be praying for precipitation. So I joined a US Masters Swim club. Approximately 30 people, ranging in age from 28 to 70, gather at 5:30am at a (really nice) high school aquatic center Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Some are religious about it. Others show up once a week at best. I'm averaging twice a week for now. I have to say, these folks can SWIM. I did my first 3K test and was humbled at how fast some can swim that far. I've got some new goals, for sure. 

Sky on fire, post-swim

Sky on fire, post-swim

And, it's not bad walking out into the sunrise after swimming 2-miles of drills to start the day. You get to see the sunrise, for one, and have that good-exhausted feeling going into work. If I can hang with my lane for the entire winter, I think I'll be a lot stronger come spring. And, what else is there? 

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