In my book, I take a moment to explain the concept behind “The Big Stupid”; an adventure that really isn’t the smartest from a training perspective for my sport, but is very necessary in order to feed my soul and sense of adventure. In that sense, it’s not stupid at all, but rather a trade-off of smart training for the week in exchange for happy memories for a year. That, and the knowledge that when it comes down to it, I can finish a 30 minute or even a 90 minute race, no problem, because I’ve gone for much longer than that.
This year’s Big Stupid idea was the “Pemi loop”, which has been labeled the second-hardest day hike in the USA. I make no claims as to the accuracy of this statement – someone told me that and it sounded cool, so I’m spreading it like it’s the truth. Regardless, this loop is 30 to 31.5 miles (depending on if you grab the extra peak here and there) and during those miles, you gain over 9,000 feet of elevation.
So. There you have it. This definitely qualified as a Big Stupid idea. Especially since I wanted to do it on my 29th birthday. Especially since I sprained my ankle 12 miles in.
Let me elaborate on that, though – I didn’t KNOW that I’d sprained it, I only knew that I rolled it. It didn’t actually seem that bad at the time, believe it or not! Let’s start at the beginning of my day, or, rather, the night before when I rolled into the Lincoln Woods trailhead in New Hampshire. I was feeling good about my plan to run it solo, and I had our awesome SMS club coach Pat O’Brien coming to join me for the Franconia Ridge part. There was a sign clearly saying you must not sleep in your car there; just as clearly, I ignored this, having nowhere else to go. I had set up a little bed the in back and was feeling pretty good about things when I rolled over and accidentally hit the “panic” button on my car keys. This produced several frantic seconds of pure embarrassment and adrenaline as I fumbled around trying to turn the blaring alarm off. A fitting end to being 28 years old…sleeping in a car, hitting the panic button on myself.
I started running the next morning around 6:30am, and was feeling awesome (to my great surprise…I am not a morning person)! I enjoyed the long hike up to the ridge, but as soon as I got up above the trees the wind picked up and fog started blowing in huge gusts up and over the ridge. There were moments when I was literally blown sideways and almost off the trail. Luckily for me, unluckily for him, Pat joined me for this entire epic foggy, blustery run, and I was exceedingly grateful for the company! Franconia ridge can be the most beautiful run in nice weather, and spectacularly awful in poor weather. We parted ways and Pat headed back down to his car as I continued in a long loop. Ironically, as soon as I got 10 minutes down the mountain into the trees, the fog lifted, it felt about 15 degrees warmer, and the wind wasn’t nearly as bad. Once I got up on top of the next peak, I could look back and see the entire ridge encased in fog, with clear mountains all around it! I suppose this is a normal sight to anyone who did NOT grow up in the Midwest, but I found it both weird and astonishing.
On my way down Garfield, disaster struck. I say this knowing that I’m being over-dramatic, but a blog post feels like the right place to be extremely over the top. The trail in that section has water running down through it like a miniature waterfall, and big slabs of rock that were, on that day, fairly muddy. I slipped with my right foot, reached out to catch myself on my left, and rolled my ankle. Anyone who has trained with me has had the gross privilege of watching my hyper-mobile joints in action, and I’ve rolled an ankle too many times to count. Even when you can clearly see the outside of my foot resting on the ground, 9 times out of 10 I’ll pop back up and be totally fine. This time was the 10th out of 10, I guess! I sat down, said a bad word that I won’t repeat because I know there are children reading this, and moved my ankle in every direction. It didn’t feel broken, but what I do I know? I have an unusually high pain tolerance that has been the foundation of my skiing career, in the absence of really great technique, stellar speed or impressive power. So even though it didn’t feel bad, part of my brain knew that I could (and would) push though anything if I needed to. And I did need to, because I was out in the middle of the mountains.
I started slowly walking, then hiking, then running. My nearest bailout option was 8 miles away, and I called Pat to ask how that might work. Being the awesome guy that he is, he volunteered to come pick me up if I wanted, but I decided that I must have just rolled my ankle and not seriously injured it because at that point, it wasn’t hurting too badly and I could run on it. At the Galehead hut I got a huge burrito (important), Advil (also important) and a hut worker kindly lent me athletic tape to make a brace for my ankle so I would be less likely to roll it again (most important). And a huge brownie. Happy Birthday to me!
The rest of the run, I didn’t think about my ankle at all. Just kidding! I worried that I would roll it again, so I was exceedingly careful. The great side effect of moving much slower meant that I had more time on the ridge to enjoy all the spectacular views though, so I wasn’t mad about it. The Bond Cliff area in particular was very impressive, and if you ever have a chance to go run or hike that part of New Hampshire, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The last 5 miles of the run are flat and fairly boring, or at least they were until I encountered a frantic backpacker asking me if I’d seen the bear that had wandered into her campsite and taken her lunch from her. Apparently, I’d run right past it, but at this point I was playing Lizzo on speaker with my phone, so some combination of the two of us (her, singing like a goddess….me, singing along like a banshee) must have scared the bear away. Full credit to Lizzo for saving my life and my sanity those first two flat miles, but the last 3 miles something really special happened. I rounded the corner and found a father and son who had hiked out there with cowbells to cheer me on and wish me happy birthday! They ran back to the car with me, and I’m not sure I would have made those last 3 miles without them. At this point, my ankle was beginning to swell up, the first step in a series of transformations that got more grotesque by the hour. But this random act of pure kindness made my day! A whopping 9:15 hours later, I was back at the parking lot where I started, and feeling tired but totally satisfied.
By the time I got back to Stratton, I couldn’t stand on my ankle or walk. Wade, proving once again that he’s the most amazing fiancee in the world, literally carried me in from the car…then proceeded to carry me around the condo from room to room whenever I needed anything. Lucky for his work from home situation, I got a pair of crutches from Kate Boobar, the awesome trainer at SMS school, the next day. 48 hours after I’d rolled it, my ankle looked like something straight out of a Stephen King novel, and I went to an Orthopedic clinic to get x-rays (shoutout to Dr. Gammons for the help!).
Nurses who had seen me crutch by would stop by my station, look at my x-rays, look at my foot, and, astonished, look back at the x-rays. There was no way it was broken, but also…how could it not be? How did I ever run 18 miles on something that ended up looking like a costume from “Stranger Things”? Turns out it was just a sprain, and within a week, the swelling and bruising were down considerably. I have been doing range of motion exercises daily, and I can almost train normally (although bounding, jumping, skipping will have to wait a little while yet and I’m proceeding cautiously). I consider myself incredibly lucky, and all things considered, I really didn’t think it was a painful injury. But it was a good lesson in caution, and a reminder of how easily injuries can happen.
In other news, training has been going well. I’m fortunate to be part of such a strong club team and great training environment! We’ve been crushing time trials, lifting weights at the SMS school gym with strict COVID-19 safety protocols, and pushing each other in speed workouts.
Back in July, (yes, I realize it’s been a hot second since I posted last…) I hiked the Presidential Traverse with Wade, Anne Hart and Thomas Rabon, and it was an absolutely fantastic day. The Presi is another iconic adventure in the Whites of New Hampshire, so called because it covers the peaks over 4,000ft named after Presidents. And we had a beautiful day for Wade’s first trip into the Whites! He really nailed it too…how do you top an 18 mile hike with 8 peaks as your first time hiking in New Hampshire?!?
Then I went home to Minnesota to visit my family for a week that went by much too quickly, but I absorbed so much love and puppy kisses that it should last until the fall.
One very special afternoon, I went with my Mom and sister to visit the wedding venue that Wade and I chose for our special day! Our wedding is far off in the future, and we’re enjoying the process of taking our time picking out all the details of our special day. But I’ll share this sneak-peak with you of Almquist Farm in Hastings, Minnesota, because I absolutely fell in love with the big barn and it’s wall of glass doors looking off into the sunset, and outdoor ceremony site! An outdoor wedding was super important to us, since we love camping and running and skiing together. Not to mention that Wade proposed on the side of a mountain, so it seems only right that we found a venue with rolling hills and big beautiful trees!
Last but certainly not least, I’ve been keeping busy outside of training with being a speaker for a number of companies, and I’m excited to share that I’m the September speaker and host of the Salomon and REI virtual book club! I’m joining a really inspirational lineup of athletes that I admire, so I feel very lucky to get to present Live on September 17th. The link for the free signup is below, and they include a link to purchase Brave Enough if you don’t have your own copy and want one!