Break me into bigger pieces, so some of me is home with you.

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My blog-tivity – 2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  My numbers aren’t particularly high or anything, but I really enjoyed dusting this blog off and getting it active again.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it, too.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Grand Canyon sunrise

Across the room, the shining red digits of the clock taunted my restlessness.

2:57 am

“Just close your eyes, the more you dwell on it the less you’ll sleep,” I told myself.  I drifted in and out of consciousness for what seemed like hours and gave myself permission to check the clock again.

3:12 am

Damn it.

On the other side of the bed I could sense a similar sleepless agitation from Joan. We tossed and turned for a while longer, with the optimistic hope that sleep would come and give us passage to a more reasonable hour of the morning. “Want to get up and catch the sunrise at the Canyon?” I asked sarcastically.

A long pause.

“Umm…yeah!  Let’s do it!”

We had already been planning on taking a day-trip to hike around the Grand Canyon.  Sure, we weren’t planning on leaving for another seven hours, but what the heck?  Neither of us was really getting any rest.  How cool would a sunrise at the 7th natural wonder of the world be?

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Turns out, really cool.

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Yes, I look incredibly smug in this picture.

We found an excellent perch away from the crowds and prepared ourselves for a breathtaking dawn.

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We were started cold but knew the sun’s warmth would soon be upon us.

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And in came the sunshine…

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Sunshine!  Woohoo!!

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Boom!

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The sun began to spread, showering the landscape in light.

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As the the day began, so did our hike.

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Signs warned of the dangers of heatstroke.

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The trail crisscrossed and lead us down, down, down.

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Cheerful morning hike!

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A look back at where we started.

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Walls all lined up.

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Desert beauty.

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Deadwood.  Ooooor live wood.

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The return trip.  All uphill from here.

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Adventures need good partners.  I’ve got the best.

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The view from the top is much different from being down on the Colorado River.  This was my first trip to the rim of the big ditch, and Joan’s second (but first in adult life.)  In case I’m stating the obvious, it’s enormous.  Like, really, really big.  Friends, come and visit us and we’ll got check it out.  Seriously, it’s only 90 minutes from our house.  How crazy is that?

Here’s to making yourself feel small once in a while.  Cheers.

Squeaky Wheel

Friends, what have you taught me?!?

A few weeks back, I posted A (non-)ode to Bad Coffee (which you should read for context before going on), a tongue-in-cheek gripe session about the chalky, bark-flavored swill I’ve been drinking during graduate school.  It’s sold as “coffee” but I think it was mislabeled.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.  So far, the non-ode has yielded six pounds of delicious, high-quality, free trade coffee beans.  Is more on the way?  I’ll have to wait and see.

Attached to a pound from Durango’s Raider Ridge Cafe was a response poem, reprinted here without any form of permission:

An ode to Good Coffee:

Here is some coffee that is not shitty,

It will wash away your sad self pity.

It does not taste of bark or soil,

It will not make your tummy boil.

It is 100 percent Fair Trade, you see,

The beans are roasted locally.

It has the most delightful aroma,

It would even wake you from a coma.

The taste, oh my!  It will make you swoon,

You may choose to add cream and stir with a spoon.

So toss out that cheap bad coffee swill

And dig out your trusty coffee mil.

Don’t fret about saving your hard earned dough!

I think by now you already know:

That some thiings in life

Are not worth such strife.

Special thanks to my bean providers, Dave Noir (from Kaladi Coffee), Mother Dearest (hooking it up with Camp4Coffee) and Tracey and Jarrod (of the aforementioned Raider Ridge Cafe).  You’ve all reinforced the notion that I should bitch and moan until treats arrive to shut me up.  I appreciate it!

Now, about the shitty beer I’ve been drinking…

What I learned over Xmas break

Joan and I spent 17 days in Colorado over the holiday break, and during that time I was reminded of some basic life lessons. To share with you:

1. Hold your friends close and your family closer.
Often, those two categories are the same. Especially when growing up in a small town like Gunnison, friends become family. When challenges face a community, people come together. Tragedy provides a powerful reminder of just how important the people in our lives truly are. Hold them close and tight, and enjoy the good times.

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2. Flexibility.
Living out of a suitcase is hard (but Joan and I already knew that.) Sometimes, it’s easier to let other people make the decisions and go with the flow.  This was particularly true when people began to get holiday flus and colds.  We have the most control over how we react to situations.  We can have influence on the events that are going to happen, but awareness of our responses and understanding the circumstances makes adapting to those events much, much easier.

3. You can’t do everything…
My, what grand plans I had! I’ll back country ski with Jordan and Lani, we’ll hang out with John and Jackie in Denver, we’ll check out Ft. Collins as a possible next home base. Oh, let’s go to CB for New Years, too! These are all plans we had that didn’t quite pan out. High hopes fell short this time.

4. …But you can do a lot.
We got to see our nephews, go to the zoo with little ones, skied Crested Butte, Monarch and cross-country, saw TONS of friends, spent time with family, saw an incredibly creative dance show (directed by one of Joan’s old friends, ascendanceproject), stayed up till 12:02 New Years Eve and plenty more. We make our to-do lists long and difficult to complete but we fill those lists with great things, so those items we do get to check off are just as sweet.  Quality and quantity.

5. Bringing joy is the best.
We had a top secret plan in the works for several months and executed it masterfully. Thanks to many individuals, one of Joan’s long-time dance friends received an aerial dance cube as a surprise present. And she flipped! It was so much fun to bring her out, blindfolded, and surprise her with this dance apparatus. Jess is going to have so much fun getting to know this piece of equipment and it was super cool to be a part of the gift giving.

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6. Home is where we are.
Crested Butte, Gunnison, parts of the front range, and Flagstaff all represent a little bit of home to us. Wherever we were, we were able to enjoy it. Yes, we do keep all our possessions here in Flaggy-boy, but we still feel very connected with other places as well. With that said, Flagstaff has been a great home to us, and we were glad to get back after a long road trip.

What lessons did you learn over the holidays?

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Letter to Wes

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More than two weeks after I received the news that you were gone, I still can’t believe it.  I still expect to see your crooked grin waltz through the door, a springy, bouncy step carrying your lanky frame.  Wes, I can’t believe you’re gone.  We miss you.  I miss you.

The news was delivered to me in a rather unceremonious way.  My phone vibrated and without looking, I ignored it for the moment.  I was engaged with a conversation with my family, after being away at graduate school for a semester and I was enjoying the raucous debate.  I finally glanced down and read, “Wes Ochs died last night.”

And that was it.  That was all the information provided.  Not because the messenger was being callous, but simply because there was no additional information available.  By and by, reports came out indicating possible causes of death.  An enlarged heart was suggested as a factor, a tragically poetic explanation that makes me want to cry and smile at the same time.  Indeed Wes, you had an enormous heart.

I want to remember the great things about you.  I don’t ever want to forget the way you could make us all laugh and smile.  You gave without asking for anything in return.  You were a true friend.

On December 22nd, Denver Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes against opponents the Houston Texans, setting a new NFL touchdown passing record and clinching a playoff spot for the Broncos.  Wes, you were the biggest Broncos fan I knew and Mannings record seemed particularly symbolic the day following your death.  I remember going to your house in junior high and thinking how strange it was that you had bottles of mustard lining your shelves.  Even after you explained to me that this particular brand of mustard was endorsed by Ed McCaffery, wide receiver for the Bronco’s from ’95 to ’03 (and your favorite player) I still thought condiments were better suited for the refrigerator.  The excitement and zeal you lived with overflowed into all aspects of your life.

Speaking of middle school, remember all those toilet paper raids we went on during those days?  Apologies to the homeowners of Lower Castle Mountain, because we colored that place white with 2-ply several nights a month each summer.  Sorry to point this all out while you’re not here to defend yourself, Wes, but this is a definite highlight of my childhood.

You kept me in basketball through high school.  Sports were an extra challenge for me during this time, as I was going through chemotherapy.  In an act of solidarity and unity, the entire freshman team shaved their heads to match my drug induced baldness.   Wes, you were a big part of that experience and a great leader for our team.  I was never especially skilled at the sport and looked to athletes like you with admiration.  I wanted to be like you and always looked up to your ability to play with such talent.  You encouraged me, picked me up when I was down and helped me improve my game outside of practice.  Wes, you were an incredible teammate.  And you looked terrible bald.

Wes, I can’t end this letter to you without mentioning one of our biggest, running jokes.  Dude, I love you, but you had the most hilarious habit of making accidental same-sex innuendos.  (Reader, if you don’t know exactly what I mean, please familiarize yourself with Tobias Funke, a character from the TV show Arrested Development and great example of what I mean.)  I’m not going to post any here, but I’ve got an endless supply that will always make me chuckle.  You always made people smile.

With improving consistency, a handful of 2005 GHS graduates have been getting together in Denver for a yearly (and trust me on this part, extremely informal) reunion.  You were a pivotal part of that process and would often host all of us.  I’m looking forward to this for 2014.  We’ll need to find a new host for it, but we’ll toast to you, tell stories of your memory and celebrate like you were with us.  Because, in us gathering together, you will be.

A (non-)ode to Bad Coffee

Student life; you’ve caused me strife,

poverty cuts like a knife.

Student loans, they chill my bones,

but for caffeine my tummy moans.

The swill I drink is black as ink,

“This is not coffee,” I think,

“It tastes of bark, of soil too,

it turns my gut and makes it stew,

Free trade?!  Bah!  Not a chance!”

The coffee label, at first glance,

looks more like a hardware bin

than the tin good beans are in.

I choke it down and do my best

to allow my stomach to digest.

“At least it’s hot,” I justify

but lo, my taste buds do not lie,

the budget beans that I did try

the cheapest you could ever buy,

are not worth the savings of the dough.

This cheap, bad coffee gives me woe,

to save me from future self pity,

I won’t buy coffee that is so shitty.

 

Written by a literate, privileged white male who, admittedly, made too big of a deal about bad coffee.

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Grand Canyon Highlights

 

 

 

 

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Sunny, long days on the river were complemented most days by breathtaking hikes into side canyons and sometimes up ancient stone walls.

 

 

 

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Options are a good thing. With four duckies and four oar rigs, we had the opportunity to switch our method of transportation. Floating low and slow with Mikey.

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And there were rapids. Oh, were there rapids! Ted and his minions, taking the fun line right through Hance.,

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Your’s truly, learning to row. I took the oars on the second day and piloted our vessel through the roaring twenties. Trial by fire!

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How many people can fit on a ducky? I bet we could have squeezed in one more…

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I got the Mat-Cat-Ameboa blues!!!

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After a good day on the water and some hiking around camp, we’d usually kickback telling stories and drinking beer. The river life is the life for me.

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It’s time to start permit-strategizing! Can’t wait to go back!

 

Blog blog, blog blog blog. Blog!

Typically, it starts out with a vague statement.

Yes, it sounds trite, but it tends to work.  The next few sentences usually begin to add color and context to that vague statement, giving the reader an indication to where the post is going.  Many writers use this style, similar to a newscast or article.  The momentum gets rolling and the ideas are clearly stated:  this post is all about posting.   A posting inception.  META POST.  Once the introduction is done, it will transition into the body, providing details to the main ideas.  After that, the post will wrap up in a nice, neat conclusion.  You’ll see.

There are a few important things to make sure you do when writing the body of the blog post.  You must make sure your reader is still with you, and to do that you’ve got to say something eye-catching: the secrets all lie in the details.  Now, obviously you’ll need to back up that claim.  You can do that a number of ways, but the most useful is probably providing examples.  “I’m making this up as I go along,” or possibly something like, “You realize you’re reading a post about posting, right?” would work.  The body really ties the whole post together.  After all, it’s the reason you’re posting!  Why would you post just and introduction and a conclusion?  What did it introduce?  What did it conclude!?  You see my point.  And your reader will too.  Make sure your final couple of sentences of your body paragraph propels the reader into your conclusion paragraph, or else they might not take the time to read it.  What a mistake that would be!  The conclusion is where it all comes back together!

And finally, we’ve arrived.  The conclusion pretty much writes itself.  As long as your introduction and body can stand on their own, you’ve got nothing to worry about.  You’ve already described the main points of your idea previously, your conclusion is only here to highlight them and remind the forgetful reader what he’s just read.  Which was a meta blog post about posting.  Sure, some might say it’s a waste of time, to read something so trivial.  Others would argue that it gave them insight and maybe, at the least, a chuckle or two.  That was your goal, you sly dog!  You did it!  Beyond that, there isn’t much else to do in the conclusion.  Make sure you don’t leave your faithful reader hanging, and then send them on their way.  It’s classy to direct a statement at them towards the end as well.  They made it this far, don’t they deserve a pat on the back?

Well, don’t you?

Thanks for reading.

(No, you cannot have those three minutes of your life back.)

(Also, the video that may or may not have inspired this post.)

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Big moves

The train whistle pierces the still of the evening silence…

Is it “pierces”?  “Pearces”?  No, definitely “pierces”.  It still looks funny, though…anyway.

It rained tonight.  The soil around the new house is damp and a faint smell of ozone and puddles wafts in through the screen door.

Yikes, is that how ‘wafts’ is spelled?

The house on Cedar Ave is still partially packed in boxes, randomly pilled against walls and atop one another.  Only today did a proper coaxial cable adapter spring our house forth from “Luddite” to “blog-worthy”.

Alright, poor attempt at gaining pity through prose.  Yup, I’ve been a slouch at blogging.

I’m trying to say that it’s been awhile.

I’ve missed you.

But (in the typical and all too common fashion of unpaid bloggers) I’m going to make a serious effort towards being more consistent with my posts.

The sound you just heard was my unsuccessful attempt at stifling a chortle.

Everyone knows the easiest excuse when you haven’t called mom for weeks or run into a friend you’ve been innocently avoiding: “I’ve meant to get in touch with you, but I’ve been sooo busy!”

And I really, really have.  Really.

Allow me to recap:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

In a worthy attempt to make this summer even more fun than the last, I spent 17 days rafting the Grand Canyon stretch of the Colorado River…

A handstand chain at Redwall Cavern with some of the team

A handstand chain at Redwall Cavern with some of the team

 

…I attended a beer festival and a Rockies game with childhood friends…

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I watched one of my best friends get married to the woman of his dreams…

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…I had my first paid circus-gig, and performed on stilts and in the aerial cube.

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Running away to join the circus!

 

Earlier in the year, I made an attempt to ski Mt. Rainier with two of my climbing partners, Sean and Kyle…

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Mt. Rainier with Kyle and Sean

 

…and I held my nephew Asher for the first time!

 

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Holding my nephew for the first time

 

Joan and I mountain biked, hiked, camped and goofed.

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Hiking in the West Elk Wilderness with Joansie

 

I fell further in love…

 

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Lupine on Snodgrass with my Linders

…and we moved to Flagstaff.

We’re starting a great little life in the “mountains” of Arizona.  It’s cool enough for the dogs, we’re two blocks from great trails and school is in full swing for me.  It’s been a bit of an adjustment but with change comes opportunity.  We’re excited for all the adventures to be had in Flagstaff and can’t wait for you all to come visit!

With Colorado always in our hearts, we’ll be thinking of all our friends back home.  Adventure is out there!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

“Find a way or make one.” -Robert E. Peary

Race Report: Gore-Tex Grand Traverse with Cancer Climber

“What’s it going to take to finish this thing and be happy when we’re done?” Sean asked in one of our many emails in the week before the start of the 16th annual Gore-Tex Grand Traverse.  I had attempted the race three times prior and had finished once, so I became our teams de-facto expert on preparation.

I answered, “Maintaining a reasonable pace, remembering WHY we’re doing it, hitting the checkpoints before cutoffs, drinking beer when we’re done.”

Easy, right?

Grand Traverse race preparation is a marathon.  Honestly, it’s more stressful on the days leading up to the race start than doing the race itself.  Gear, gear, gear.  Spend all day at racer meetings and gear check.  Try to nap.  Eat and drink as much as you can, something that helps to prevent proper napping.  Panic because you don’t have the right flavor 5-Hour Energy.  Realize flavor doesn’t matter at 6am.  Check, double-check, triple-check and quadruple-check your skin set up.  Pack.  Repack.  Re-repack.  Nap.  Ugh.

After a day that passes in segments, it was time to head up to the start line.  The start of the race is unlike any other event I’ve been a part of.  Mostly because it takes place at the same time as the local radio station’s huge fundraiser, Soul Train.  Imagine, hundreds of ski randonee racers lining up at the Crested Butte base area, preparing to ski 40 miles into the night, whilst hundreds of local crazies are halfway through their night of reliving the 70’s disco era.  Afro wigs and headlights, bell-bottoms and speed suits, platform shoes and ski boots intermingled while Kool and the Gang echoed against the mountains.  Quite the sight.

Sean and I made our way to the back of the pack aiming for a casual start.  Our goal was to ski within ourselves and not get sucked into the racer mentality, risking too strong of a start and blowing ourselves out before the real challenge began.  This strategy proved costly an hour into the race, where we had to battle recurring bottle necks through breakable crust over steep gullys and open meadows.  Patients was key, as getting frustrated during this section of the race would only cause tension among teammates.  We went with the flow and finally arrived on Brush Creek Road where the snow had been solidified and made travel much easier.

When we arrived on East Brush Creek, we decided it was a great opportunity to make up some time.  I hadn’t expected the previous section to take so long, so we settled into a brisk pace and moved swiftly up to Friends Hut.  Aside from a minor slip into an open creek (brrr!) the climb went well and we found ourselves at Friends an hour before the cut off time.  We took the opportunity to replenish our water, to eat some food and to bundle up in defense against the wind that could be heard howling a thousand feet above.  The climb up Star Pass promised to be steep and cold.

This is when I learned how hot Sean’s engine runs.  From the start, he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  He threw on a hoodie/windbreaker for a little while but complained of sweating and being too hot.  Remember, we started at midnight.  At over 9,000 feet and rising.  At temperatures below freezing.  He claims to have the metabolism of a 14 year old and this is good evidence.  He used wind-pants and a windbreaker to head up Star Pass and later said he could have done without them.  Wow.

We got to the top of Star and prepared to descend.   I talked to a course marshal who told me we looked good for finishing.  It was 7:20 am and we were about a third of the way into the race.

The drop down from Star Pass was a blast.  The snow was choppy powder rather than the breakable crust we encountered earlier in the race.  It skied really well, much better than the section did last year.  We got down to the transition zone and joined about 10 other teams who had descended before us.  There was a feeling of jubilation among the racers, because there were only two timed check points left, and those were well in the distance.  With them so far away, it felt like we’d all surely make it to Aspen.

At this point, however, Sean began to cough.  He had been suffering from a chest cold since earlier in the week.  Keep in mind, this guy has one functioning lung.  I knew his cold was going to be an issue, but it hadn’t seemed to bother him earlier on in the race.  Maybe it was the cold air on the descent, but Sean was hacking severely from this point on.  He had difficulty drawing a full breath and was constantly on the verge of vomiting   I tried my best to maintain a pace that would bring us to the next check point in time without putting too much exertion on his suffering lung.  We ended up pacing a couple of teams that were moving at a similar rate, which helped.  I know how difficult it was for Sean to keep moving with his condition and he did a great job fighting through it.

The route took us through Taylor Flats and up Taylor Pass where the wind was fierce.  We chose to keep our skins on for the brief descent which allowed us to climb up the subsequent Gold Hill without transitioning.  Taylor and Gold are pretty short, but the steepness makes them true stingers.  We put them behind us as quickly as possible.

At the top of Gold Hill, we ripped our skins for the third time and made the descent to the Barnard Hut.  It was about 12:30 and at that pace, we were sure to make it to Aspen before the 4pm cut off at the Sundeck.

As we entered the checkpoint, a volunteer casually asked us how we were doing.  “Fine except I can’t breathe,” replied Sean.  The volunteer turned out to be a doctor and asked Sean if we could examine him a bit further.  The doc was pretty blown away by our team, both of us being two-time cancer survivors, and offered Sean a treatment for asthma.  I sat drinking soup and eating while the doc checked Sean out, wondering if we’d be allowed to continue.

Twenty minutes passed.  I prepared our gear, refilled water and ate.  I went to the medical tent to find Sean seated and inhaling from a tube that was releasing some sort of white vapor.  It was making him feel better momentarily, but wasn’t curing the congestion and constriction in his chest.  The realization started to sink in: the chest cold was winning and it didn’t look like our team was going to continue.

Huge bummer.

The doctor said, “Sean, I think we’re going to have to take you out on a snowmobile.”  To this, Sean replied, “That doesn’t mean HE has to go out on a sled, does it?”  Generally, teams aren’t allowed to continue without both members.  The nature of back country travel is too dangerous for individuals to head out alone and the race organizers have stated that only teams of two are allowed to continue.  Luckily, Sean’s very charismatic.  He explained our mission, to compete to raise funds for Cancer Climber.  He added that this was my fourth GT and that I was very knowledgeable about the course.  The section remaining was very benign as far as back country travel goes, as it follows a jeep road all the way to the sundeck.

The decision was made to let me continue on.  Not giving the officials a chance to rethink their decision (not that they would have, the route had no major challenges or potential avalanche danger remaining), I thanked Sean for his super-human effort, stepped into my bindings and began the final leg of the journey.

I felt GREAT.  The pace we had been setting through the night was a finishers pace, certainly not a high-placer’s pace.  We were strolling, largely because of ‘ole one-lung’s handicapping cold.  When I got the go-ahead from race officials, I took off like it was a 100 meter dash.  And continued at that pace.  Up and over each minor climb on Richmond Ridge, plowing over the whooped out snowmobile troughs that have been known to make grown men cry and carrying past the heartbreaking flats between.  I got in the zone and got to the sundeck in amazing time.

At the sundeck I ran into three other teams, in various stages of celebration and exhaustion.  We knew we had made it, and everyone shared that stupid, aww-shucks grin of a school boy that got away with a solid prank, or maybe just stole a kiss from that girl he likes.  Joy abounded.  Jokes were made during the slow, much less urgent transition from up to down, and I eventually stepped down into my bindings and pulled on my goggles for the final decent.  The decent into Aspen.  A place where the beer flows like wine (unless they run out!  Yeah, I arrived so late that the kegs had been kicked.  WHAT?!?  Luckily Joan was on hand to grab a PBR for me before I turned around and stormed back to Crested Butte), where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano.  ASSSSSSPEN!

The descent was glorious.  I reveled in the corn.  I hooted and hollered as a overtook fellow racers, offering what encouragement I could in an effort to make their burning legs hurt a little bit less.  I was there.  I was going to make it!  For me.  For Sean.  For Cancer Climber.  For all the patients, young and old, going through treatment.  Cancer Climber for the win!

My face was still plastered with that silly grin as I crossed the finish line.  The journey was complete.  Sean was there, arriving earlier via snowmobile, already in his signature flip-flops, to give me a big congratulatory hug.  “Next time I won’t be sick,” he said.  “Doesn’t matter,” I said, “We gave that thing hell for as long as you could.  I’m amazed you made it as far as you did in your condition.  Great effort, dude.”

Cancer Climber will be back to the Grand Traverse.  We’re used to adversity, we can handle challenges.  We met our goals we set from the start:  Maintain a reasonable pace: check.  Even if it was slower than we could have gone because of illness, we made progress and would have finished in time.  Remember WHY we’re doing it: check.  Especially through the dark, beautiful night, I took the time to think about loved ones who have battled cancer.  Some have won, some have lost.  Remembering those battles fueled my strides and with each step along the way, cancer patients were with me.  Hit checkpoints before cutoffs: check.  Maybe we didn’t proceed as a team past Barnard, but technically, we reached every checkpoint before the cutoff time.  I guess the sundeck has a cutoff too, but come on.  We did damn good.  Drink beer when we’re done: check.  PBR never tasted soooo good.  Next year we’ll be more prepared and healthier.  Look out, GT’14.