This past weekend was unexpectedly amazing. I cannot think of any other way to describe the physical, mental, emotional, and social triumphs that were made over the course of 48 hours. After last winter’s single accomplishments with Cole (and often with the crew of six incredible guys) including a 32 mile Mahoosuc Traverse, 33 miles Pemi Loop, 22 mile Presidential Traverse, 26 mile Great Range Traverse, 24 mile Bonds-Zealand-Hale Traverse, and 18 mile Wildcats-Carters-Moriah Traverse plus a Single Season Winter 48 completion I was certain we would not top these enjoyable feats. I also was uncertain of what Cole was capable of for another cold season.
Nate and I decided that heading to New York would be a welcomed change from the Whites, so I suggested we try doing back to back ultra days. As usual, he didn’t hesitate to agree and we began brainstorming ways to make this happen. While coordinating with the hiking crew from last year and arranging for a place to stay we concluded that Friday we would do the Devil’s Path (28 miles in the Catskill Mountains) and Saturday we would meet the crew for the Saranac 6 Ultra (34 miles in the Adirondack Mountains). With these two hikes being 4 hours of driving time apart and wanting a moment to sleep in between we knew it would be an interesting undertaking. I also was concerned with Cole’s ability to do 62 miles on minimal rest with more than 21,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. We packed our gear and headed for the hills with excitement, apprehension, and adrenaline.
My wonderful friend and a running legend, Dick, put us up for free at his home. He also provided the car spot ride for this traverse and it was incredibly helpful. We set out on Friday with dull microspikes (the Hillsound Ultras we ordered did not deliver before we left), changes of clothing, and a ton of food and water. The conditions were spring like after a random thaw during the middle of the week and we spent the day slipping, sliding and skirting around some slick ice bulges. While we did not have ideal conditions for a super fast traverse we were happy to stay conservative with our time and enjoy a beautiful day on trails.
The Devil’s Path is one of many enjoyable days in the Catskills with sneaky elevation gain and beautiful outlooks. If completing the traverse from east to west, then you spend the first half on four steep climbs and ascents which are notoriously icy in winter. The climbs are generally a mile long with 1,000 feet of elevation gain, so you work hard for them, but they’re over quickly. At the half way point you cross the road which offers a water source in summer and gives your brain one final time to hitchhike before regaining the elevation you previously lost. The second half only has two peaks, which means more gradual climbing and runnable terrain, but a lot more ground to cover in between climbs. After 12 hours we arrived back at the car and feeling surprisingly spry (Cole included).
After spending some time eating and hanging out with Dick we retired to his pull out couch for a nap. The next morning we set out on the road for the 4 hour drive north to Saranac Lake to meet the crew. While Nate and I were a little stiff in the legs Cole seemed unfazed by the day before. We arrived in the center of town to begin our 34 mile ultra consisting of 6 peaks throughout the area, five of which require driving to a different trailhead for. The air was cold and we knew conditions would be icy, but firm. With exhilaration and grins 5 guys, 1 girl, and a tiny dog set out to walk up some hills.
After the first mile Nate and I loosened up and were ready to roll. We all enjoyed the first two summits in daylight and then prepared for the last 4 in darkness. Divided up into 3 cars, each with two people, we caravanned to each new trailhead and helped to motivate one another to exit the warm car. The Saranac 6 is unique because the true challenge is in driving to the next trailhead and motivating to restock your pack and hike, yet again. We grouped them so our first stop included 2 peaks and was the longest distance at 12 miles. The next 4 each require driving and are single peaks which gradually decrease in length. y the final peak it is only 1.8 miles roundtrip, which at that point sounds like a marathon. While we each faced different moments of fatigue and challenges (some of the guys got nauseous and I found myself wanting to go to bed during the warm car ride to the 5th peak) we made it back to the center of town within 18 hours to ring the bell. The crazy, hilarious, and driven crew had accomplished an all nighter of hiking!
One of the best parts of weekends like this is the moments you experience and the conversations you have: with others and with yourself. I was able to remember how grateful I am to have a job that I love and enjoy hearing from clients, even if it’s in between hikes for a quick update or check in. Being a psychotherapist is truly rewarding and I am incredibly lucky to have such amazing, hard working, funny, and caring clients. I don’t feel like a day in my office is work: partly because my office is so cozy and partly because I love what I do. I’m also appreciative of my family and friends. My mother kept checking in to see how we were doing and my best friend texted several times to ensure I hadn’t been taken to the hospital. I’m also thankful for my amazing boyfriend who shared every minute of this with me. His athleticism, intelligence, constant affirmations, support, patience, and damn fine looks make me want to pinch myself every morning to make sure this is reality.
Then, of course, I had a lot of time to think about Cole. I somehow ended up with a dog that is so well matched for me it’s frightening. His ability to be low maintenance throughout the day (he doesn’t require walks and is free fed so he eats during the day when he’s hungry), not require a leash (very rare for his breed), never have an accident, spend all day at my office with clients, travel around the country with me, and hike countless miles is appreciated and valued every day. This past weekend when I looked at him bombing down trails without any sign of fatigue or pain I knew he was something special. I would be lying if I said I don’t worry about how things will go a few years down the line when he needs to slow down, but for now I’m cherishing every wild experience I can with him.
My final moment of gratitude goes to my body. I have Lyme Disease and work hard at managing symptoms with the herb Cat’s Claw. I also suffer from Raynaud’s Disease and am particularly careful on long winter days with regards to keeping my hands warm and circulation on point. I’m 35 years old, which I realize isn’t old for a hiker, but for an athlete it can feel old at times. I’ve broken bones and separated joints which on long days with a heavy pack can remind me that I’m not 18 anymore. Somehow, someway, my body accomplished something I was unsure it was capable of this weekend. Not only that, but I wasn’t achy or sick after the sleep deprivation or high miles and elevation. I was lucky enough to find the “sweet spot” of working hard, moving at a moderate pace, having fun, and staying healthy.
Through all of these wonderful realizations and great conversations on trail with the guys I also reflected on something that’s been disappointing; since I have become clearly happy, grateful, and accomplished (yes, I have every right to be proud of my accomplishments) I have noticed that some people have become negative and discourteous. While I am genuinely excited for anyone’s positive performance I seem to elicit a level of negativity and haughtiness. I experienced this when racing, but on a less overt scale and not as frequently. Somehow, if I am thrilled for accomplishing something then I am either labeled a “bitch”, “narcissist”, or “self centered” (actual terms people have called me). I’ve also had several men comment stating they have accomplished the same thing, but “it was harder when [they] did it” or that they could “do it better”. While I’m sure these comments come from insecurity and ego deficiencies they still take up space in my brain for a moment. What I would ask that readers remember is that as athletes and humans in general the best thing we can do it work together to build a sense of support and mutual admiration. I view a girl that sets a speed record as an inspiration and something to strive for. I also consider someone that creates a new and unique route in the mountains an innovator that helped me think of a notable idea. In addition to this I’m ecstatic for the person that does anything they love and reflects on it because joy shared is twice the joy. When I share my pride, excitement, and achievements with people it is not simply to brag, but it is to share my happiness with others. I certainly hope the trails can continue to offer smiles, thankfulness, and support to all that share them with me.