How could any story in 2020 use the word “perfect”? Turns out that mine is a story of perfection, certainly not in the context of the overwhelming political and societal turmoil all amidst a horrible global health crisis. Far from it. Yet, think a moment of those times when you may have joked about owning an island, a little place far away to escape from the negativity that consumes our every day and feeling helpless for that which we are not able to change. Well, I don’t own that island (yet anyway) so I find a path, a journey, that will keep me focused on the positive, on the things that bring me joy, and that which I can control.
I won’t dwell on the gut wrenching beginning to 2020, and needless to say, it didn’t get better from there. In fact, while on a long weekend getaway with friends in the Adirondacks mid-January I found myself playing Pandemic. I never even heard of the game, let alone played it. Essentially, you team up and use your player’s designated “ability” to conquer the spread of the pandemic and save the world. We did “win” the game that evening. If only it was that simple as a mere 6 weeks later the game became an unthinkable reality.
At the time, I was also in the middle of working through a hip flexor injury, and while I had races on the calendar, I needed to see how my body would respond once I was sufficiently healthy enough to resume a training block. That time came in March, just as the fear and panic of COVID-19 spread across the globe and our nation. As shelves were being wiped clean of toilet paper and pasta from Maine to California, and the normal life around us was literally shutting down, I began training for my first race – Wilmington Whiteface MTB 100k, June 6, 2020. I ventured out for long rides on the weekends, and while I frequently find myself training solo, these outings presented me with odd feelings of loneliness as my surroundings had a vacancy of life that didn’t previously exist. Granted, nothing would ever be “normal” again.
As the days passed with the uncertainty of pandemic life and other sadness seemed to loom around me, the stresses were building. I was feeling the effects in my mood and sleep patterns. I was also unhappy with the projection of my training post injury and backed off a structured schedule. This continued through April and decided, if there was any time to take a step back, re-group and focus on getting 100% healthy, that was the time. I discussed with my coach, Chris Dunn (Ascend Endurance Coaching) to clear the calendar for May also, I just needed a break. Looking back, I’m glad I spoke up because it turned out to be the best decision for me. It’s important not only to be attune to your body, but to listen and be mindful and keep communications open between coach and athlete, and not just about all the good fun stuff! A coach should be able to assist you during times of injury, same as during peak training phases, transition periods and off seasons. It’s all part of the two-way learning process and team work my coach and I have continued building on over the last 3 years.
This all doesn’t sound very joyful, but hear me out. While the year that 2020 quickly became was foreshadowed with the turn of the New Year, this is about a change of mindset to focus on the things I am able to control. A story of my journey towards healing and a DIY adventure challenge.
As I spent the months of April and May focused on healing my body, the reality that none of my races would take place this year quickly became apparent. Fortunately, my motivations are not driven by one race day. Rather, I find great fulfillment in the journey – the routine, the planning, the effort and hard-work, the consistency required to attain a goal, the adventure! Doors had closed, but that doesn’t mean you stop searching for others unlocked. Sure enough, as I glanced around the room, a sign hung from the doorknob of another that read, “Cross New Hampshire Adventure Challenge”. Without hesitation, I turned the knob and walked through that door. Thankfully, the time I took in April and May to focus on physical therapy, yoga, foam rolling, sleep – heck, all things ‘get this body back to 100%’, proved extremely fruitful. I was also able to continue some eastward progress on my FLT E2E project, and picked up a couple more adventure projects along the way (thanks to my trail sister sidekicks!) of biking and paddling all 11 Finger Lakes.
June 1, 2020 (13 weeks to Cross NH Adventure), time to get to work and I was feeling like “me” again. Yay! I looked forward to once again having a structured training plan (pretty sure my coach was happy to give me workouts too), and even more excited to have longer weekend adventures to plan. After the snowiest May that I can recall in years (yes, several days of actual snowfall occurred – I mean it is 2020 after all), turns out we had the most spectacular Summer. As with any big event (registered race or not), I became very dedicated and focused to prepare myself as best I could for the nearly 100-mile journey across New Hampshire via bike, hike and paddle. I spent three months prioritizing, planning, setting early morning alarms, adventuring, squeezing in 2 workouts before work to have an evening “free”, training with friends when possible (socially distanced of course), dragging my husband on crazy wife hilly gravel bike routes only to then have him wait patiently while I subsequently went on my 90-120 minute fast hike brick activity (okay, I honestly didn’t really drag him on training rides, he did willingly sign up). As the weeks passed, I built fitness and strength, and continued to dedicate extra time to PT exercises, stretching, foam rolling, sleep and nutrition. I knew the effort banked during these weeks would have a significant contribution to the outcome of achieving my goal.
The end of the training cycle was drawing near and I didn’t need a calendar to tell me. Each of us is so individualized in so many ways, I feel it is important to emphasize this, to know yourself. There is a reason for training blocks and phases. Mentally and physically I have a limit and by mid-August, the pot was at a full boil. I was tired. Tired of the routine, the planning and time to prep for the long weekend activities, the early morning alarm, squeezing in workouts, and I was feeling small twinges in the area of my old injury. I’ve worked too damn hard for that to come back. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t terrible things in the grand scheme of life. I get it. I chose this challenge and all that comes with it. But how I was feeling is part of that process and the fact being, my taper couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.
I took the first week to settle in to the reduced volume, stayed focused on sleep, nutrition and hydration, and kept a watchful eye on that hip flexor, which I’m happy to report didn’t escalate beyond a niggle. I soon turned my focus to full on preparation and packing for a full day crossing NH solo and all that entails for me and my crew (my husband Ken!), plus being away for a week! Oh, and not checking the 10-day forecast on a daily basis. Ha!
August 28, 2020, 4am Wells River, VT at the border of NH the gun goes off. Kidding! I started my Garmin and said “I’m off!” as I road into the empty streets of town. The first 40some miles were on the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail, through towns and woods, passed covered bridges and over the Ammonoosuc River. While I missed the majority of these scenes, I did see my first porcupine (which I proceeded to take a wide berth around) and was able to experience my favorite part of the day, sunrise. It was spectacular! First coloring the sky shades of pink, outlining a backdrop of the White Mountains I would soon be hiking, and subsequently blanketing the fields and valleys with its warmth and as I crested a hill and soaked in this view, a smile formed ear to ear. I was so grateful to be in this place.
Ken met me at our self made aid station for a brief check-in and hydration re-fill and off I went with about 20 miles remaining, feeling good and keeping a steady pace. Soon after, the climbing began. And nothing feels better than a 10-mile climb with 2,000 feet gain at this point, but reaching the top of Jefferson Notch sure was one heck of an accomplishment! Reached the first transition after about 55 miles of riding for a quick gear and clothing change and fueled with Skratch Labs recovery drink mix for easily digestible calories and nutrition before heading into the White Mountains.
I started the trek with 2 others, but they quickly outpaced me, so once again found myself solo as I made my way first up to Mount Washington. The views were jaw dropping, as I looked up to the endless sea of rocks ahead of me and as I glanced back to blue skies colliding with a landscape of green covered mountains and valleys. I made it to Lake of The Clouds Hut and layered up with my rain pants for the windy final ascent up Crawford Path. I had a solid pace and still had good energy in the last mile and was so happy to reach the summit of Peak #1! Ken made the drive up the auto road to meet me (I will let him tell that story) which was a good morale boost. After the obligatory summit photo, I continued on via Gulfside trail. Still had 3 more summits to go!
Coming off Washington, the clouds dissipated and the sunshine emerged, so I quickly ditched the rain pants and made my way up to Mount Jefferson. Things slowed down a bit as I continued my trek. I was getting tired. My legs were not as steady and the concentration needed for all the boulder hopping was seeping the energy from my mental state. I fell, which could have gone really badly, but fortunately I left just a scraping of my thigh on a rock, took a deep breath, assessed, and reigned in my pace a bit. Looking off in the distance, Adams seemed SO FAR AWAY. Turns out, it was at the rate I was going. The solo trekking was now testing me mentally, in addition to the effort. I was at the point of, “If I need to spend one more %$#^% hour on these rocks I’m going to lose it.” I made it to Mount Adams, snapped a cool photo in the gusty wind (so I thought and I’m not going back for that photo) and unfortunately descended the more technical route – and yup, I lost it. Here was my low point. My legs were tired. I was tired of being alone. Madison Hut seemed like it was not getting any closer. However, I was only going to get there taking one step at a time. Many deep breaths later and focusing on this one small goal, I made it to the hut. I had already made the decision based on pace and daylight hours remaining to skip Madison and head out an alternative trail.
I was SO HAPPY to see the cars in the parking lot coming off that trail and Ken was ready and waiting with some hot food and all things needed for gear and clothing change – back on the bike! Dusk was setting in, so I wanted to keep moving to get as much daylight riding as possible. I had no idea how my legs would perform after over 9 hours trekking and I hopped on the bike and literally took off. My legs felt….fresh?! No idea, but I had 15 miles to go on the CNHAT, mostly in the dark, so I took full advantage of the short 5 mile stretch of trail that was very smooth and fast. I was having so much fun and was beaming ear to ear! Until, darkness set in. I missed a turn and was momentarily off route. Which meant, I was passed by some others who were also adventuring that day (I later find out). Either way, I continue on solo and the last 10 miles were less than ideal gravel bike conditions to tackle. I was frustrated because my legs felt great, but I couldn’t just ride. I encountered many spots where I didn’t feel comfortable riding as I really didn’t want to risk taking a tumble. But Bo (my gravel bike) and I managed, talked to myself a lot, walked more than I preferred, talked to my ghost “camera crew” following on my adventure and just went one mile at a time until I hit paved road and bombed down to the last transition.
It was as I had envisioned several months ago given the route, the miles, the timing – a solo paddle down an unknown river (the Ammonoosuc) under the darkness of night. Well, there’s a first time for everything, right?! Ken sent me off downriver about 9pm, and I was like “Wow. It’s dark and quiet and lonely out here!” Good news bad news though. Good news – river was low so I knew there would be very shallow and calm waters. Not so great news – can’t see the little ‘rock’ islands in the dark so I had a super fun time pushing myself out of beaching my kayak 3 times. I went from moments of “Sheesh, I can’t see a damn thing! Is that an island I need to go around or the shore!?”, to moments of, “It couldn’t be better weather for paddling, the moon is partially out which is so beautiful reflecting on the water. I’m very grateful to be out able to do this and I’m about to finish my goal.” I encountered a beaver, his tail smacking the water to inform me I was clearly interrupting his river crossing. I knew the paddle was about 5-6 miles and was looking ahead in earnest for headlamps along the shore. Next I knew, I heard what sounded like rapids (after such a quiet paddle this seemed loud) and I panicked, mostly because I couldn’t see a danged thing and how was I going to maneuver through these rocks, when off to the right, there it was. The best sight I could ever see. Headlamps beaming back at me from the shore. Oh, here I was! I DID IT!! I paddled close to shore, around the mini-rapids, and was greeted to a welcoming finish line of cow bells, clapping and congratulations! Thank You!!
I jumped out of my boat at Gilead, Maine, and nearly fell over from wobbly legs as I teetered across the rocks and came ashore. Over 18 hours of adventuring, primarily solo, and 90 miles covered across New Hampshire. The challenge was complete. The cherry on top of a journey that led to this day that was as good as it was possible to be.