Tuesday, January 4, 2022

2021 in Review: A Year of Reserved Endeavors

Having fun at the Bighorn 100

Well here we are again...at another year's end. I sit here nestled in the corner of the coffee shop, living in this uncertain "new-normal", occasionally pulling my face mask down to sip my coffee.....and trying to come up with some kind of clever title that best encapsulates this year. What I realize though, is that there really isn't any. Every time time I think about the various experiences that have made up the year for me, one word always seemed to come to mind: "reserved". I think about trips I've taken, hikes I've been on, runs I've done, or my various motorcycle adventures...and in each case while there was excitement and thrill, there was also a a constant and nagging feeling of caution. This global pandemic we've all navigated our way through over the past two years has left us all with a prolonged sense of fatigue. While I feel like a fair majority of us all want to do the right things and remain vigilant, I think we are all simply tired in our own ways, of this new reality. Tired of zoom, tired of extra steps required for previously inconsequential tasks, and tired of the constant and heightened vigilance. It's kind of like when you go on a long road trip...and spend 8 hours behind the wheel. On paper, it shouldn't be exhausting....as you're just sitting there occasionally turning a steering wheel. BUT, as we all know, it is exhausting due to constant mental commitment and vigilance required.

I think more than anything what has surprised me, and frankly saddened me, is just how many people I've witnessed that simply don't care about doing all they can to help and protect others. What has emerged from this pandemic is an overwhelming abundance of selfish and entitled attitudes that is really just...well....ugly. So many of us proclaim to hold strong or commendable morals, or to be followers of various faiths....faiths that almost universally teach mandates to be kind to all, and always help others. Yet, over the past year, there's been so much of "me, me, me" and to heck with my neighbor or fellow. I've seen people get into full on fist-fights with airline flight attendants because rather than do something small to try to help others, they contend that wearing a small piece of fabric over their face somehow is an affront to their "personal freedoms". I think of people like that flight attendant who is just trying to get by and provide for their family in these weird and difficult times, and it's no wonder so many people in service jobs are quitting in record numbers.

Since when did vaccines become government conspiracies? They are probably the most effective medical advancement every developed and have likely saved billions of lives. I think back to my post about climate denialism when I wrote:

This is when I realized this strange and unnatural propensity to gravitate towards conspiracies and pseudoscience. It's simply more tantalizing and exciting. I think there's something gratifying about getting people to believe you as well...almost as if you've "recruited for the cause". Additionally, people, by nature, are very stubborn and defensive.  When someone shows you empirical evidence that a long held belief about something is potentially wrong, rather than get excited about something new and possibly wonderful...people tend to deny it, or defend their own belief.  No one likes to find out that they've been wrong about something.

As far as latching on to conspiracies....well this has been going on for centuries.  In the last 50 years, and particularly with the recent development of the fast global connectivity of the internet, conspiracies establish themselves quickly and get deeply rooted.  Regardless of the obvious counter-evidence presented, these conspiracies hold on tightly and people stay dug in, like a tick, believing them....rather than to just laugh about it, admit their gullibility, open their beliefs to something new, and move on.  I think back to the the countless hours of network news coverage of the most ridiculous things I could imagine.  The president of the United States having to present his birth certificate to prove his citizenship.  People convinced that somehow 9/11 was an "Inside Job", despite members of terror groups openly boasting about it.  So why do we want so much to believe these things?  Why would anyone want to believe that 9/11 was a coverup of some sorts?  I just don't understand.  What feeds into this even more is that some real "conspiracies" do actually exist (e.g. Watergate),  and only further perpetuate the idea that "anything is possible" and "see!...the government has secret agendas!"

At any rate, I don't want to dwell on this, and instead will take a walk down my 2021 memory lane. Despite the heightened cautions, and the reserved nature of most of my outings, I did still manage to have a really wonderful and satisfying year. So....let's take a look back.


Starting the Resolution Challenge (still fresh)

The year started like every other year has started for the past 8 years....with my annual running of the 3hr CJ's resolution challenge. This year I chose to run a 1.1-mile loop around my neighborhood. I knew I wasn't in great shape so was just hoping to get close to 20 miles. As usual, I cut it incredibly close on the penultimate lap, crossing the start lap for my final lap just seconds before the 3-hour mark. As per the rules, I am allowed to start a new lap as long as the clock reads under 3 total hours. I started the last loop in before the cut-off, and ultimately walked the last loop in as a victory lap. In total I did just eke out 20 miles with a total of 20.1 (18 total laps).

Not long after running loops on a sunny January weekend, we got pummeled in Flagstaff by over 26 inches of snow. As fun as it was to see this much snow, it also meant that most of my preferred outdoor activities were officially over for the season (principally long bike rides, trail running, and motorcycle jaunts). I had a lot of fun digging snow trenches in the backyard for the dog to navigate, and performing various measurements on the fresh snow. Once a snow/ice scientist, always a snow/ice scientist....

Measuring the fresh snow after the big storm

I paid for this picture with my back....

At the end of January, I received news that as an educator within the Arizona Board of Regents "domain", I was considered Tier 1B for the new SARS-Cov-2 Vaccine. While part of me was ecstatic to be eligible, I also felt guilty knowing there were likely thousands at greater risk, that should be ahead of me in line. I asked about this, and was told to get the vaccine so that I would be in compliance with University Policy. I posted the picture below on my social media accounts with the following caption: 

"Thank you to all of the medical researchers, scientists, trial phase volunteers, and everyone else that made this picture possible. It speaks to the incredible ingenuity of our researchers and scientists that this picture could even happen only 1 year after really just recognizing SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. I had to drive through a literal blizzard this morning to get to the vaccine site...but would have truthfully snow-shoed there if I had to."


At some point in late-January, I set out on a quest to "Run Every Street" within the city limits of Flagstaff. I figured it would be a good way to try to knock out some fun winter miles. Progress went well for several weeks, but eventually my interest in the project began to fade as the weather got nicer and I started getting out more on trails. I did manage to knock out several hundred miles in total before suspending the project. I do plan to still complete it at some point down the line. Despite being on roads, I did still experience some beautiful sunsets and views that I hadn't expected. In many ways doing a project like this did allow me to see parts of my city that I otherwise would have likely never seen.

"Run Every Street" progress map

An evening sunset while "running every street"

One of the more primitive "Roads" that I had to run

In February I came to the decision that I finally needed a new road bike. For years I had been riding an older commuter bike that I picked up from a friend...but it never quite fit me right. Initially, I was trying to get my hands on a bike called the Space Horse from a company called All City, however this bike was impossible to find. After some more searching, I stumbled across the Specialized Diverge and found one in my size down in the Phoenix Area. I put a deposit on it immediately and picked it up a few days later. A few short weeks, I customarily earned this new bike by completing the requisite century ride by cycling 50 miles out and back through the hills of Flagstaff.

The new wheels!

My first century ride on the new bike

Mile ~75 on my century ride

As the weather slowly got warmer, my interests turned from running/cycling, back to the motorcycle. Early on, I was having some issues getting the bike to run consistently due to a faulty fuel pump relay, which was causing it to stall a lot. Once remedied though, the bike ran smoothly for the rest of the year. All it took w as a $10 upgraded relay, and a slight adjustment to the throttle position sensor. As the snow began melting, I starting venturing out further and further on the bike to satisfy that itch. It wasn't until May though that the county finally opened the forest roads and I was truly able to "rip it up".

Early Spring ride (note the snow in the background)

Ripping it up on some newly opened forest roads

When the end of the semester rolled around, I found myself itching to get back into the "Big Ditch" again. I made another pilgrimage up to the South Rim and completed my 2nd R2R2R. Little did I know that I'd be back once again a few months later for a 3rd go. As with my first attempt, I did the standard Kaibab Trail Out and Back (and avoiding the Bright Angel Trail). For this attempt, I was notably slower and more out of shape. The return climb up the South Kaibab that evening was brutal.

4:30 am start

Crossing the Colorado

Finishing up the R2R2R right at sunset.

In May, I made my way back to my old stomping grounds in Vermont and New Hampshire to run some samples on the Micro-CT analyzer. This was my first time back to my old neighborhood and research lab since leaving in June of 2019. It was nice seeing friends and colleagues and playing around my old favorite places. It was also nice just working in a lab again. I do miss the ordered predictability of running samples and compiling data.

Another bonus to this trip was that I was able to visit with my sister and Nephew who drove up from NY. We did a bunch of hiking, and of course visited the Ben and Jerry's factory. I also was able to visit with my good friend and running partner from Boston (the same friend that rescued me at the finish of my Long Trail FKT attempt). We met up in the White Mountains of NY, and hiked up Mt. Moosilauke. It was grand. Having now lived in Northern Arizona for 2 years, this trip taught me that I still have deep affection for the mountains and woods of the Northeast. I don't think I'll ever shake that.

Micro-CT Analyzer

The Quechee Falls just across from my old Apartment

My nephew taking after his uncle

Hanging on Moosilauke

Reflecting on how much I miss the Northeast woods.

When I returned to Arizona, I made a rather spontaneous, yet long overdue purchase. I found a bike shop down in Phoenix that happened to have a foldable Brompton bicycle in stock, that fit the specifications that I had been looking for....for almost 10 years. On a whim, I bought it and it has brought an incredible amount of joy into my life. I've mostly been using it for commuting, but it also does well for longer rides. For the rest of May, I spent many hours playing around on the Brommie. 

I did post a bit more about my Spring here: A Spring Update

The new Brompton H6R

After a long ride

As May was coming to a close, a rather frightening realization came into focus: I was scheduled to run a 100-mile race in less than a month (Bighorn 100), and I was not in shape to do so. SO....I immediately began putting in some "desperation" miles knowing that I would not have a fast race, but hopefully still have a fun race. I got my mileage volume up to a respectable level and even completed a 46-mile loop run around Flagstaff on the appropriately named "Flagstaff Loop Trail". I fared quite well on this loop, despite speed-hiking a lot of it. I knew that Bighorn was going to be slow, but I at least now felt confident I'd be able to finish it.

On the Flagstaff Loop Trail.

Towards the end of June, C and I flew up to Sheridan Wyoming for what would ultimately be my only 100-miler of the year. I was genuinely quite excited to be running this event if only that it was my first real "overnight" ultra in a long time. I was excited for the 3 am headlamp running through the woods and mountains....even if a lot of it would be hiking.

Just before the start of the race

...and crossing the finish just under 30 total hours

After the race, we spent the remainder of the week camping and exploring various parts of Wyoming and Montana. We kept mostly to ourselves and primarily on back roads. I came to discover just how lovely the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming are.

Bighorn Canyon

One of our camp sites on the trip

We returned from Wyoming to learn that Flagstaff was literally on fire. As our plane came in to land from Wyoming, the entire town looked like an apocalyptic nightmare. A very large wildfire, the Raphael Fire, was burning just a few miles outside of town and moving towards our neighborhood. This created smoke and terrible air quality for the entire city. We were on "standby" to evacuate...something I never thought I'd be faced with. The fire continued to burn for days, but was eventually stymied. I did catch several photos of the smoke plumes...

The Raphael Fire plume as seen from the FLG airport.

In July, came my biggest adventure of the year. I had already agreed to captain an aid station for the Hardrock 100 endurance run up in Silverton CO....but this year, I decided to make my way to the event a little differently. I loaded up the Himalayan with all of my camping gear and supplies, and headed out for a multi-day moto-adventure tour.

About to head out for a 7-day moto-tour!

I spent several days traversing Arizona and New Mexico before popping up into Colorado over by the Sangre de Cristo range. I opted to head there first as I still need to summit the two Crestone 14er peaks. In my quest to bag all 58, I was still sitting pretty at 49. Knocking out the 2 Crestones would leave me only the 7 Elk Range peaks to complete the full circuit. So how did it go? Well let's just say that it was incredibly memorable for many reasons. I would also not that Crestone Needle was the most difficult 14er I have completed to date (although I recognize that I still have Pyramid, Capital, and the Maroon Bells to do...which are all quite difficult.

I did post a detailed synopsis of my Crestone Mountain experience here: Bagging the Crestones!

Starting up the Crestone Route (Crestone Needle visible in background)

Mountain Lake near the base of the Crestones.

On the Summit of Crestone Needle (Crestone Peak in Background)

I eventually made my way back to Silverton, taking a rather circuitous and scenic route to get there. The Hardrock race went off smoothly, although it was admittedly a bit difficult to see the runners head out and not be among them. I again captained the aid station at the Finish Line and it was the smoothest and most efficiently run station I've had to date. No hiccups, not problems whatsoever and all of my volunteers were fantastic.

First aid-station shift at the finish line

When I returned home, I spent the remainder of the summer mostly just getting out on short runs and rides, and focusing on some home projects. We had a thriving garden that was producing an insane amount of green beans. I also installed a second rain-barrel to collect water for the garden. We also spent July and August getting our home solar panels installed and configured. By August, everything was up and running...producing well over our typical monthly usage (resulting in net-positive electric bills)

Who says you can't have a garden in Arizona!?

One day bean haul.

New rain barrel (and self-made stand)

New Solar Panels!

On the work front, I was informed I'd be moving offices, so I took it upon myself to paint the walls a fun orange and spice it up a bit. It has been a vast improvement over my previous "dungeon" office.

The new office (before the furniture upgrade) - note the Brompton ;-)

Before I knew it, Fall semester had begun and I had a cohort of over 30 graduate students that were keeping me busy. I did still sneak away on weekend jaunts either on the bike or on foot. I made my annual trip up Humphreys and even stopped to visit the old plane crash site.

On top of Humphreys

Plane crash debris amongst the boulder field

A rather unique trip I took was up to the Grand Canyon on the Motorcycle. I decided to strap the folded Brompton to the back and have a "bike-n-bike" trip. It worked out perfectly and I was able to explore a large part of the South Rim inaccessible my motor vehicle (primarily Hermit's Rest).

The Himalayan + Brompton combo

Relaxing on the South Rim with the Brompton

The Brompton overlooking the Grand Canyon

End of the Road at Hermit's Rest

In October, my Mom came out to visit for the first time since we moved to Flagstaff, I took her up to the Aspens with the dog and we had a nice time exploring various places around town.

Hanging with Mom

Catching some Aspen colors.

A visit to the Wupatki Pueblo

The following weekend I finally made the trip up Kendrick Peak north of town. This is one of those trips I had been meaning to do for a really long time, and finally just went for it. I rode the Himalayan to the trail head, and the hiked up the 2500+ feet to the summit. Along the way, I spotted a famous Northern AZ Tarantula.

Northern AZ Tarantula

On the Summit of Kendrick

In October, our University Department again set out on the annual R2R trip at the Canyon. I couldn't resist going for another solo R2R2R. I decided on this trip though, to see not only how fast I could make it to the North Rim, but, to ascend the Bright Angel Trail on the return. I ended up shaving 20 minutes off of my crossing time and hit the north rim in 5 hrs 40 minutes. Not bad for 22 miles and almost 6000 feet of gain. As expected, the views were again stunning and the Bright Angel Trail was magnificent (albeit longer). One thing I really enjoyed on this crossing was how long I was night-hiking at the start. I didn't turn off my headlamp until the Cottonwood camp well over 10 miles into the hike. I descended the entire South Rim in the dark by headlamp. It was surreal. The one downside to this hike was that I had to wait for the shuttle once I made it to the top of the Bright Angel Trail as my car was still parked down by the Kaibab Trailhead. I didn't make it home until well after dark that night.

Part-way up to the North Rim

Looking up to the North Rim

On the Bright Angel Trail looking up the final 6 miles.

A Black-Backed AZ Scorpion on the Bright Angel Trail

At the end of the climb...again just before sun set.

At some point in the Fall, I was contacted by a local Himalayan owner/rider in Flagstaff that happened to come across a picture of mine online. We exchanged contact info and ended up going on several rides together. It was really fun getting out on some group rides as up to that point, all of my riding had been solo.  On one ride up and around Schultz Pass, there was actually 4 of us all ripping it up together. It was splendid.

Heading out to "Edge of the World" scenic lookout in Flagstaff

Somewhere along the route....

Group ride near Schultz Pass

In Early November, I made my annual pilgrimage to Virginia where I would once again run the Mountain Masochist 50-Miler with my Barkley friends. Due to various reasons this year though, it would only be myself and Travis running together. The course this year was also significantly changed and we were pretty sure it would be harder. The race director did extend the race cut-off to 13 hours, however we decided between us that we would still shoot for a sub-12 hour finish as usual. Well, needless to say, the course WAS significantly tougher, and I was not in shape for it. I managed ok through about 32 miles, but from mile 32 to 45, I was in a really bad place. I struggled every step to keep up with Travis and every time I thought I was making up time, I'd check my watch and see that we were just barely on 12-hour pace. Around mile 40, I told Travis to just go ahead, get the sub-12, and I'd just come in a bit later at the finish. I had sort of made peace with the fact that my finish was likely going to be about 10 minutes over 12 hours. Travis was out of sight by mile 42 and for the next 3 miles I slowed a bit on the final climb in an effort to gather myself. When I topped out at around mile 46 I saw that I had about 40 minutes to still make a sub-12. This would require some serious running, on some rocky trail, with completely trashed lags. But...somehow I managed to hit a groove and was overcome with a final surge. I banged out the next 3 miles in sub-8 minute pace and absolutely screamed down the final descent. It was awful, yet amazing at the same time. As I approached the road and final mile I saw that I had run those three miles in about 22 minutes, meaning I still had 18 minutes to run the last mile and make it under 12. When I hit the last straightaway with the finish line in sight about 1/2 mile ahead, I saw Travis was only about 2 minutes ahead of me. I had actually managed to almost catch back up to him.  I crossed the line in 11:54 after slowing down a bit over the last 1/4 mile. It was a hard-fought finish....but one that brought a definite smirk to my face. This marked my 6th MMTR finish, and Travis's 22nd! Next year, I will definitely come more trained.

Me and Trav (with our crew Mark) at mile ~20.

Right after finishing...

The next day....featuring 4 Barkley Finishers!

When I got back from Virginia, C and I took a long-weekend trip down to Sedona just to get away for a few days. We explored some caves, played with the doggo by the river, and mostly just unplugged. It was fantastic.

On a hike in Sedona

Oak Creek with the doggo

Climbing up to the "Subway"

View from the "Subway"

View of Sedona from the "Subway"

Inside "Hideout" Cave

View from "Hideout" Cave

For Thanksgiving this year, we headed to Southern California to the town of Wrightwood...as a way to meet up 1/2-way with some Family coming from Northern California. I had not been to Wrightwood since my PCT thru-hike back in 2010, so was excited to return. As it happened, I had some "unfinished business" in Wrightwood. Back in 2009, a large wildfire (Station Fire) had burned through the area, resulting in several sections of the PCT being closed in 2010 during my hike. I had to hike many re-reroutes or alternates to get around these sections. One such section was the part of the trail that goes up and over Mount Baden Powell....a rather well-known summit. I had always been bummed that I wasn't able to do that hike, so now that I was back in Wrightwood, I hiked it not once, but twice! I was a spectacular section of trail and the views from the top were top-notch.

The start of the Baden Powell section at Vincent Gulch.

A view of Baden Powell from the highway

On the Summit!

When I got home from Thanksgiving break, I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing off 13 new graduates from the Climate Science Masters Program. Many of these students spent their entire graduate experience over Zoom, making their graduation all that more meaningful and impressive. I am incredibly proud of each and every one of these students. As part of the celebration, I held a "Hooding Ceremony" where we celebrated each student, and also exchanged fun, silly, or occasionally embarrassing stories.

2021 Climate Science MS graduates (5 not pictured)

Hooding a Student

The next day at graduation

Very shortly after graduation, the first real snows fell, effectively marking the end of any sort of trail season, or riding season. I immediately put the scooter up for winter storage, but kept the Himalayan on standby just in case we got another warm spell (which I am not anticipating). I think it's probably just me not being willing to admit the riding season is over just yet. I suppose I'll come to terms with it soon enough...

....and 14+ inches of snow overnight....

Good night Scootie. May you live to ride another year...

And that wraps it up. There were definitely some other fun things I did along the way this year that I didn't include here, but I figured this post was probably long enough. I do have some fun ideas bouncing around my head for 2022, but we'll see how things shake out as the year starts to progress. Needless to say, I'm hopeful for another good year, and cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to experience some new and exciting adventures.

So...with that said. Happy New Year everyone, and as always....KEEP EXPLORING.

I'll leave you with my silly doggo wearing a Yeti costume, mid-yawn....making her look like a ferocious abominable snow-dog!