Vert Thursdays

Vert Thursdays

With summer only weeks away and the hope of some longer adventures in my heart, I can’t ignore the reality that is my fitness level. Long days on skis are fantastic for developing an aerobic base, but hiking muscles are a different beast. I’ve been running on the road every week, putting in around 20 miles of easy pavement miles so the engine is feeling pretty good. Which leaves the climbing legs, building strength on the quads, hammies and core to power me up the long mountain passes with weight on my back.

There is no better way to build that strength than to find vert – the steeper the better. The climbing will build leg strength and lung capacity, obviously, but the downhill is equally important, as it builds the ability to eccentrically load the quads and withstand the pounding of downhill miles. I’ve been focusing on hiking up as quickly as possible (not very quick some days, if I am being honest…) and then running back down to maximize the downhill effect.

I am lucky to have a wonderful adventure buddy (need coaching – she’ll get you to your goals!) who is training for an impossibly cool stage race in the Austrian Alps, where vert is just a fact of life. We’ve dedicated one day a week to go and find some serious vert, and after several weeks, I’m seeing a big improvement in my ability to climb and descend. We hope to cap off our climbing training with the Triple D Challenge – a one day summit of Mt Defiance, Dog Mountain and Devil’s Rest. We’ll see how that goes!

If you want to add some vert to your life and you’re training in the Portland area, here are the routes we’ve mapped out as possible destinations for climbing practice.  You can pare them down and do repeats or combine in other ways. If there is a big climb you know of that I’ve missed, let me know in the comments.

p.s. If you are interested in getting local maps from Komoot, let me know via email (runnerteri at gmail.com). I can email you a code for a free region of maps. I’m a big fan of their mapping and planning features. I’ve been a fan of Gaia GPS for a long time, but I might have a new favorite.

Calling Myself An Adventurer

Calling Myself An Adventurer

I remember when I first started running how reluctant I was to call myself a runner. “Runner” was just not my identity – I was a soccer player who used running to get in shape. My habits and activities and very sense of self were intimately connected with the game I had played since I was 8 years old. It was not until I began putting my running pursuits first that I began to consider myself a runner – a shift most noticeable when I changed my email address from soccer Teri to runner Teri. The long process of identifying as a runner followed my change in habits.

But what if I had wanted to become a runner and what all of that meant in a purposeful way? Or now that I would like to be an adventurer? How do you do that? Is it possible? Do you just stumble into it? Do you have to be born with those qualities?

The book I am reading right now, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, is all about this question. He argues that to become the person we want to be, we have to START by identifying as that kind of person. Want to become an ultrarunner? Call yourself an ultrarunner, and then, as you make your daily choices and work on your habits, ask yourself, “What would an ultrarunner do here?” Maybe an ultrarunner would run a little farther or make a different food choice or work strength training into her day. Do those things. And as you strengthen that identity in yourself and choose those habits, you gradually become that person you wish to be.

“Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become.” – James Clear

I’ve been reluctant to call myself an adventurer. It feels a little conceited, and I feel like an imposter. But if Clear is right, and I have to admit, it makes a lot of sense, I need to call myself an adventurer if I want to become one. I need to ask myself, “What would an adventurer do today?” and make those choices that help me become that person. It’s a powerful idea, and it helps me understand more clearly why writing these posts and taking on these challenges are important for me to do. 

To assume a new identity, Clear says there are two things you need to do.

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

It’s powerful stuff, really. So instead of being afraid to call myself the things I really want to be, I’m going to embrace those new identities. Skier. Adventurer. Backpacker. It’s the only way I will actually become those things!

The Anxiety of Going Solo

The Anxiety of Going Solo

I wrote most these words sitting in the sun of my campsite, the late afternoon light illuminating the moss hanging from the tree branches around me.

Getting to this moment was a battle. It has been quite some time since I ventured out by myself overnight, and this is only the third solo trip I’ve attempted, with the first one ending with me passed out on the trail. (It has taken some time to work through that fear.) My nerves are fire – the two young men I passed early on potential predators, the young couple looking at my car at the bathroom stop miles away from here are potential meth heads on a car prowl. The evidence of elk suggests that a mountain lion could frequent the area; an aggressive bull elk could also take me out. My logical mind knows these ideas to be the anxiety that I wrestle with all of the time, but the intrusive thoughts don’t end just because I recognize them. It’s a dull buzz that occasionally shoots adrenaline into my system. I know this feeling. I just have to let it be.

This, on a perfect, sunny, warm April day with no bad weather in sight. On a well maintained trail I know well. I knew heading out it would be a mental battle to go because of the hesitation that kept rising; I chose my conditions carefully to at least edge me towards success. This was a mental training that I needed to take on for the season to come; I could feel the tendrils of fear that were starting to plant themselves in my psyche. It was time to start pulling at some of those roots so that my goals wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of life this summer.

My nerves have been frayed by the year long quarantine, by too much Trump and Q-Anon, by the uncertainty of living through a pandemic and becoming too comfortable in hermit like routines. The long process of emerging needs to start sometime, so I have deliberately chosen to push myself out of comfort and onto the trail to overnight by myself. Moving through these anxious thoughts. Finally, warm sun on my back, gentle breeze in my hair, the sound of the Lewis River a gentle beat – in this moment, I feel fully alive. Capable. Brave. Despite, or perhaps because of, the mental games I have had to play to get on the road, get on the trail, commit to staying out.

It’s so easy to surrender, to give in to the fear in the name of safety or responsibility or a hundred other viable reasons your mind will throw at you. I nearly turned the car around several times today. I seriously considered turning around at several points, and then I nearly gave in to the thought of not setting up the tent once I found a suitable spot – safe, if not a bit ridiculous in its level of hiddenness. Even as I sit here, fully reflective of how good it will feel to achieve this goal, my mind is wondering if my car is safe. My car! As if it were some living thing needing protection.

We meet ourselves when we venture out alone. When I have an actual adventure buddy with me, there is always a small part of me that is acting – being a little bit braver, more enthusiastic and kinder than I might be by myself. You don’t suggest turning around because there might be a killer loose in the woods like the one on a podcast you recently listened to (Do not listen to true crime podcasts about mysterious trail disappearances and murders! Unless you want to freak yourself out.) You smile and laugh and use the companionship to quiet the anxious thoughts. But alone, you are the only one you answer to. And it is here where you meet your fear, your laziness, your tendency to whine or be mean when conditions don’t work out exactly as you wish them to. It’s an opportunity to show up for yourself and the things you say you want. Are you kind and encouraging to yourself? Do you let yourself down and give in to the fear easily? Do you give yourself pep talks or tongue lashings? What kind of adventure buddy are you to yourself?

My solo adventures have been opportunities for me to become kinder and more gentle with myself, and I learn something new every time. Today I was more patient; I recognized my fear and gently encouraged myself to keep going (progress!) but I also said that it would alright if I decided to go back tonight. I’m slowly learning.


Big smile for morning coffee. I had done it. 

That evening, I listened to the Further. Faster. Podcast with Jenny Tough, a solo adventurer who is working on a project that involves crossing mountain ranges on the seven continents. She talked about being your own best adventure buddy, the kind of person that you would want to bring with you. It’s a great listen on this topic.

24 Hour Adventures: Lewis River Overnight

24 Hour Adventures: Lewis River Overnight

It’s easy to forget that having an adventure doesn’t have to mean leaving for weeks on end or traveling for hours to get to your destination. I love going on 24 hour adventures – where the total time, from departure to arrival back home, is just 24 hours. It’s short enough that I can be fairly spontaneous if the weather is good or the schedule suddenly allows for a quick getaway. I find that it helps to have some ideas already percolating of what I might do given that short window of time.

We’re so lucky here in the Pacific Northwest to have so many options for these kinds of micro adventures (H/T to Alistair Humphreys for coining the term). I hope to chronicle more of these short getaways throughout the year, and I would love to hear what others come up with, so please leave a comment if you have a good 24 hour adventure to suggest.

With such a great weather this past week, I decided that I should break out my gear for a solo backpack on one of my favorite trails – the Lewis River Trail. The eastern end is popular for the stunning Upper, Middle and Lower Falls, but the western end has its charm as well. It’s a fabulous example of a temperate rain forest, with huge old growth trees covered in mosses, a crystal clear river, and some beautiful waterfalls. Added bonus: it is lightly traveled so you are sure to find some solitude. It is popular in hunting season, however (there are elk sign everywhere), so pay attention to the hunting season and be sure to dress in bright clothing if you are out during that time of year (September to November, typically.)

 

The Curly Creek Falls Trailhead is about two hours from Portland. The roads are good all the way there. You can park at the bridge or at the actual trailhead, which does have a vault toilet. There are several developed campsites along the trail.

My left foot has been wonky lately, so I wasn’t planning on putting in big miles, though you certainly could on this trail. End to end, the trail is just under 15 miles long. After a few hours of hiking, I found a good camping spot and set up for the night. Being my first solo trip in nearly two years, and my first overnighter in over a year, I did find being out there a bit challenging mentally. (I’ll be writing more about this soon.) It took some time to settle in, but by dinner time, I was relaxed into it and enjoyed a quiet evening.

After an oatmeal breakfast in the morning and a speedy camp breakdown, I hiked a bit further down the trail before returning to my car. A quick adventure but so satisfying. We can gain so much with a quick trip into the woods.


The water is crystal clear and gorgeously blue green in the deep pools.


The old growth trees on this trail will blow your mind. This cedar is especially gorgeous with it’s huge knot.


I ran this trail a few years ago, and this particular spot has stayed with me. It was just as magical seeing it a second time.


If you would rather trail run than hike, the Lewis River Trail is really runnable.


Even the eastern end has some good falls. I won’t share a photo of Curly Creek Falls; it will be way more fun to discover its cool secret for yourself.

Explore the maps:

You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass or an America the Beautiful pass to park.


New Adventure At An Old Favorite

New Adventure At An Old Favorite

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself caught in the “it has to be new” loop. A new place to explore, a new route to run, a new hobby to try. Our culture is obsessed with newness, and this spills over to our recreation. If we have learned anything in this pandemic, though, it is to appreciate the familiar. (I documented my backyard with photos for a year, watching the seasons change and the birds come and go. It was a really rewarding project.)

It was in this spirit, then, that I returned to the Trail of 10 Falls Loop at Silver Falls State Park. This trail was the site of one of my first big trail runs, twenty five years ago. I have hiked it in the rain and the sun, in long routes and in short. Still, there is always something new to see; some new way of looking that can bring delight. You might introduce someone new to the trail, seeing it through their eyes for the first time. You might go in the spirit of learning to identify waterfall types. You can look and listen for birds or wildflowers. I went with the new goal of learning how to better photograph with long exposure. Newness is a quality that happens in our heads, in how we choose to see. I think it is a skill that we can cultivate to help stave off boredom and discontent.

What familiar place can you revisit with a spirit of newness?