Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Discovering Home: 2020 Year in Review

In my element on the new Himalayan

There's a lot that could be said about 2020...most of which has already been said by countless others. I can think back to January of this year...and to all of the fun adventures I had penciled into my calendar for 2020. Nearly all did not come to pass for the obvious reason that was a worldwide pandemic. As disappointed as I might have been that many of my adventures were canceled or postponed, I was never once truly salty about it, as I was fully aware of the scale and significance of what was happening. In truth, it has been over 100 years since the world faced a pandemic of this enormity and of this risk to the public health.  So while my spirits may have been dampened a bit by the many cancellations, my heart was always thinking of the many who were dealing with the pandemic from a much closer (and more personal) level. What's more, is that in spite of the many cancellations, I managed to discover many places and go on many adventures that I otherwise would not have. In addition, I don't think C and I would have welcomed our wonderful new four-legged family member into our home. So...I guess for me, there were still many silver linings.

2020 In Review

I started 2020 in what seems like a ridiculously unusual way now. Having survived my first full semester as a new Assistant Professor, C and I celebrated the new year in downtown Flagstaff by attending the annual "Pine Cone Drop"  in the downtown square. This is a somewhat goofy tradition, but it would mark the last time in the last 12 months that I found myself in such a large open crowd of people.

Nearly midnight on Dec 31st!

Everything about this picture seems so wrong now.

As January rolled in, two annual traditions came into focus: My 3hr loop run that I always do on the first weekend in January, and my month-long streak I do every year to pull myself out of my winter idleness.

So, on January 3rd, I headed up to Buffalo Park in order to complete as many 1.9 mile loops as possible on in 3hrs, and managed to come away with 22 miles again (for the 3rd straight year!).  I also managed to maintain a very healthy running streak for the entire month (with the help of my apartment complex's treadmill). I even threw in a couple of shorter races at the Coldwater Rumble, the Elephant Mountain 50k, and the Little Colorado River Half, to keep me motivated. 

Without hesitation, I can say that I was firing on all cylinders in January. I felt good and the miles felt good. By the end of the month, I felt fit, and strong again. It was going to be a good year for running! At the Elephant Mountain 50k I even finished in 3rd place!

3hr loops at Buffalo Park

Run Streak in January

Coldwater Rumble

Coldwater Rumble

Elephant Mtn. 50k

Elephant Mtn. 50k

3rd Place Award for the Elephant Mtn. 50k.

Little Colorado River Half

Little Colorado River Half Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/3083647598

After completing the Little Colorado River Half a week before the Black Canyon 100k...I felt primed and ready. I was in great shape, and ready to break 12 hours on the course. What I wasn't ready for was the desert. This east coast, humidity-driven runner, struggled quite a bit with the dry/hot air. Regardless, I still enjoyed my time out on a a lengthy course with my body in true runner shape!

I ended up having a mixed-day....really good for the first 45 miles or so, and then really rough for the last 15+. I slowed down to a walk the last few miles which pushed me over the 12hr mark by about 15 minutes. Still, I couldn't complain. I mostly had fun, and just notched an early Western States Qualifier for next year to boot. Nice. Following the race,  I also would have the Boston Marathon in April, and of course, the Hardrock 100 in July (which would be my pinnacle and focus race of the year....at least I thought so in February).

Black Canyon Finish Line

Black Canyon 100k

Following Black Canyon, I was I was excited to shift my training regimen to more hard and fast road miles to start prepping for the Boston Marathon. I would be running it with my great friend, and former running partner from Boston. It would be her first time running (and my second...although my first was pretty awful). It was going to be a GOOD year! My new semester was also starting off well. My teaching methods and style were getting better and more honed, and my students seemed content as well. I was getting some new co-authored papers out and all seemed to be on track to be somewhat of a predictably good year both academically, and from and adventure perspective.


And then March came. And with it, the SARS-CoV-2 virus. I had recalled hearing rumblings of this strange new pneumonia in China back in January, imagining "what if" it became a crazy world pandemic! Little did I know that it was inevitable at that point. I wrote at length about my experiences through the first few months of 2020, and the difficult adjustment to a "New Normal" here:

The last thing that C and I had planned before the world around us came to a screeching halt, was a fun camping trip down to the Mogollon Rim area. We had planned to swing through the town of Pine, AZ to visit with an old Barkley friend ("Frozen" Ed Furtaw). We booked a small teardrop camper for our Subaru to test it out (we were thinking of maybe buying one), and I even installed the hitch and wiring harness myself. But then right before Spring Break and our trip, the entire University and City of Flagstaff shut down completely. Our lives outside of our small apartment, effectively stopped.

Newly installed wiring harness

Life for the next few months became all about sheltering in place. We did a lot of cooking, baking, and small gardening....and I stayed centered by still getting out on solo runs into the woods. We got a lot of take-out meals too, to try to support our favorite local restaurants...but otherwise only ventured out once a week for mandatory groceries. We also started getting weekly COVID testing. 

Our classes went fully online for the remainder of the semester, and the enormity of what was happening began really setting in. This would be life now for the foreseeable future.  About this time, I was also starting to get regular notifications of various adventures and races being canceled. First it was Boston (postponed to September), then the ultimate gut punch, Hardrock. I was really looking forward to circling the San Juans again. 

During my many runs, I came to learn about quite a few new favorite places around town. I fully explored the trails of Tuthill, and discovered the Woody Mountain area (still one of my favorites). I explored Sedona a few times, found out about Sycamore Rim, and played around the trails near the big peaks and over along the AZ trail near Fisher Point. I spent many hours on Caltopo and Gaia learning of fun places to explore. C and I started a daily habit of walking 2 miles each morning to help clear our heads and stay focused. It seemed to work well.
Homemade bread

One of many fires we burned while sheltering in place

Hey look...new sprouts!

....and more Sprouts!

Time lapsed plants in the Sun!

Woody Mountain Tower

View from one of my many March runs

The local Elk herd that roams near Fisher Point

Another new running route.

Baby Horned Lizard we found on a hike in late April

During a Sycamore Rim run

As the semester ended, we found ourselves facing another dilemma. Our apartment lease would expire in July, and we really wanted to buy a house, but it just seemed like such a daunting endeavor, especially during a pandemic. Would we have to tour a home virtually? We knew the housing market in Flagstaff wasn't going to wait for us and prices would continue to climb quickly. If we were going to get a place we could afford, we'd have to act quickly. 

Through some serendipity, we managed to connect with an incredible agent who helped us quickly navigate a difficult housing landscape, made even more difficult by a global pandemic. After viewing many properties, with nothing "clicking", and feeling overwhelmed and burnt out by the process, we were ready to give up and re-sign our apartment lease. But at the last moment, we came across a property that was for sale by the owner. We quickly set up a viewing, and decisions had to be made immediately. Needless to say, we pulled the trigger quickly (with a few stomach knots and general nausea thrown in) and managed to secure a bid that was accepted! We feel so fortunate at how everything transpired and do love our new little home.

Our new home...and....our first home.

As May turned to June...and then to July, we began frantically packing and prepping for our big move. During this time, we also learned that our University would not be renewing contracts for over 100 non-tenured faculty. This was going to cause so many problems both within our department, and across the entire school.....nevermind so many of our new friends would now be unemployed. Well we did what any good colleague would do. We protested internally and on City Hall...calling for jobs not be cut. Unfortunately, no matter how much we protested, it made little difference and to this day we are still woefully understaffed at the University. The one beacon of hope that we all see, is that our very-disliked university president just announced that she is stepping down. With a new administration coming to the campus, the universal hope is that some positive changes will come with that transition.

Protesting with others on the lawn of City Hall

At the beginning of June, C and I decided to take a short (and isolated) camping weekend down to the Mogollon Rim. We wouldn't be using any sort of camper, just the two of us, and our tent. We wouldn't visit any place, just hide in the woods for a few days. It was definitely therapeutic.

A much needed respite along the Mogollon Rim

View from our campsite

A swing near our campsite

View from the hammock, down the Rim into the valley

A couple of weeks later, we were blessed with a very unseasonably cool Monday for the area near the Grand Canyon. I did what any good adventurer would do....and made a quick trip for a Rim2Rim2Rim run. I was a bit undertrained, but the bonus was that the park had only recently re-opened. It was a Monday to boot...so I literally saw almost no one the entire day through both crossings. I wrote about my adventure extensively here:

At the start of my R2R2R attempt

First major vista at Ooh Aah Point

About half-way down the Kaibab Trail to the river

Nearing the river

About half-way up the North rim

North Rim at 21 miles...ready to turn around and head back

Half-way back down the North Rim

Heading back to my car after completing the R2R2R

Before our big move at the end of July, we took one more short vacation...this time up to the San Juans of Colorado. I figured with Hardrock being canceled, C and I could still do some backcountry camping up there and explore some trails and mountains. It was a really nice little escape.

Standing on a corner....in Winslow, AZ
....it was such a fine sight to see

Our hidden little backcountry site in Colorado

Hiking near Hermosa Creek

Hiking along the Hardrock Course near Cunningham

Looking down into Cunningham

Along the Colorado Trail

The big move finally came, and with it the craziness of U-Hauls, dozens of trips to Home Depot, and various other stresses....and strains (both mental and physical). Thankfully, most of it all went off fairly smoothly.  One of the first modifications we made to the new home, was installing a cat door into an enclosed litter box in the garage. It felt weird cutting a hole in our new wall after having only just moved in. But, the solution worked out swimmingly!

Empty Apartments

Uhaul Rentals

Installing LED lightbulbs in the new House

Garage wall before....

Garage wall after...

Completed cat bathroom

Covered and inconspicuous

I made a quick trip down to Sedona in Late August to visit with fellow Barkley runner Nick Hollon (now "de la Rosa") and his wife Jade. He showed me some of his favorite trails. We had a splendid time...

Enjoying Sedona

Elephant Rock

Nick, Jade, and I having some fun

Climbing some of Sedona's famous red rock

....But then something happened which C and I weren't anticipating. After a whimsical trip to a local animal shelter to get in some fun cuddle time with a few pups....well.....we came home with one. We realized with a new house, and a new enclosed backyard, we could finally realize our dream of owning a dog. So, on September 1st, we welcomed Molly into our lives. For the first few weeks it was a struggle. She was very needy and scared. We don't know her full history, but we do know that she was about 1 year old when we adopted her, and that she was a Rez dog. Over time, she eventually warmed up to us and we are now completely inseparable. 

The day we adopted Molly (pic taken at the shelter)

Molly a few weeks after we adpoted her....what a ham

Molly last week. I mean...c'mon. Just look at that face!

Fall semester began, and with a new large cohort of students coming in the Climate Science graduate program here at NAU. I prepped and began teaching a new class in Climate Science Mitigation which included a large tree-planting group effort. It was a bit difficult to organize during a pandemic, with covid tests, social distancing, and masking...but we made it work safely and successfully and planted over 200 Ponderosa Pine trees.

Students prepping for planting

Your's truly proudly displaying my first planted tree

Our finished plot of over 200 trees, with our weather station recording data

In mid-September, I managed to still run the "Boston Marathon"....virtually. I got a bib number, plotted a 13-mile out-n-back along Lake Mary Road, and ran by myself for over 4 slow hours. Along the way I managed to video chat a couple times with my good friend back in Boston (who I was planning to run with during the actual race). It was nice to run "with" her, even if only virtually. 

The semester progressed in somewhat of a blur. We continued to grow plants, I made another trip to the Grand Canyon...this time with some students, and my grad students moved on to working with elementary school classrooms on outreach projects. 

My bib number during my "Boston Marathon"

At the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon (C printed this out and put it on our door!)


North Rim Camping with students

Rim 2 Rim (one-way) with some students

Climbing up from the river on the Kaibab trail on the South Rim

But then...something else happened that I wasn't anticipating. After much research, and almost a 15-year wait, I finally bought myself a small adventure dual-sport motorcycle. I ended up buying a 2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan (single cylinder, 411cc)  after much internal debate and vacillation. I wrote all about my multi-year interest in this pursuit, as well as the eventual purchase here:

In the two months that followed, I have been out on dozens of adventures and covered more than 1300 miles on two wheels exploring various backgrounds and trails in and around Flagstaff. It has been just as fun and soul nourishing as I had hoped. I cannot wait for more-involved adventures next Summer up in the San Juans of Colorado that will undoubtedly involve camping and 14er summiting. I have a full list of upgrades and gear that I plan to outfit the bike with in an effort to prep it for some multi-day camping/adventuring trips next Summer. My skin tingles just thinking about it. I've even managed to record a few youtube videos of my recent adventures.

The day I picked up my bike, after just a few dozens miles.

On a trip up near the Arizona Trail outside Flagstaff

Before my trip down to Sedona and the infamous Schnebly Hill Road

Youtube clip from Schnebly Hill Rd

Youtube clip from Sunset Crater Loop

Over Thanksgiving break, C and I took a socially distanced trip to visit with her sister (after negative covid tests of course), and it was nice to spend some time on trails and let our doggos play. It was the first time Molly has been around another dog for more than 20 minutes at the dog park. We learned quickly that she likes to play....and never gets tired.

Molly and Quinn playing by the river near Lake Isabella, CA

Molly experiencing a flowing creek for the first time

A beautiful and stress free hike after a taxing semester

On a soothing trail run in CA

In November, my birthday came and went, as did our National Election. As I sit here today on Jan 5th, our current president has still refused to accept the outcome of said election, or to concede. Not that it's any surprise at all given the character of the man. Once December rolled in, all thoughts shifted to Christmas, and to prepping for the looming Spring semester. C's sister would be coming to stay with us for a couple weeks over the break, and again bringing her dog (Quinn). We were excited to share our new home with family (since we wouldn't be making our normal excursion to Florida to visit with everyone). Over the past few weeks, we witnessed an amazing celestial conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn, visited several parks and monuments, and had a lot of fun cooking new meals. We even completed a couple of fun puzzles together. All in all...not a bad way to end a rather difficult year.

Our Christmas set up

My new backyard "beginner" telescope

The best I could get with my little scope
Jupiter and moons on top, Saturn on bottom

Another trip to the Grand Canyon

Sunset from the South Rim

I found a bow on my Himalayan one morning....
Santa must have paid me a visit

Molly very confused and excited about this weird white stuff

A doggo trip down to Sedona

1000 pieces of pure enjoyment (well maybe a little frustration too)

The year ended on many positive notes for me. COVID vaccines are rolling out, we have a new federal administration about to take over (one that is much more interested in the impacts of climate change and what we might do about it), and C and I are hopeful for the future. Sure Hardrock was canceled, and I had to postpone many of my anticipated adventures....but I found new adventures on the motorcycle and explored so many new trails on foot.  Just this past weekend, I started off my new year as I always do, by completing 1-mile loops as part of my annual CJ's Resolution Revolutions Run. This year I managed only 20 on my very-out-of-shape legs, but was thrilled to have had a beautiful day for the outing. This makes it 8 years in a row now. Not too shabby.

About to head out on my 3-hr annual CJ's run

My 20 miles this year 
(my very first loop was a bit longer, hence the extra bubble)

...and that about wraps it up. 2020 was definitely an interesting and challenging year, but one that I am still grateful for.....on many levels. I am incredibly hopeful for 2021 and the thought at maybe being able to visit with family and friends again. I am also excited for many new adventures as I have quite a few good ideas swirling around in my head...