Monday, January 23, 2023

2022 - Another Year Sprinkled with Adventure

On Castle Peak in Colorado

As I sit here, there are over 20 inches of new fallen snow on the ground outside, and a hot cup of Earl Grey tea to my side. A perfect Sunday evening to sit back and reflect on another year gone by. I feel that these posts have always had a notable "lean" towards the adventure, and as I get older, I see things ever evolving. It's not that the adventuring has waned or disappeared, (it most certainly hasn't!), but more that I have discovered new ways to define what exactly "meaningful" adventures are, and what ones are the most profound to me.

Upon a quick inventory of my annual memories for 2022, I can certainly recall some more poignant and unique little adventures (like some of my weekend spins around Arizona), as well as more substantial and well-planned trips (like my 2nd multiday moto-camping trip to Colorado). I still had a fair amount of adventures on foot, and even by bicycle as well. Many of my so-called adventures, were more inward I would say, or perhaps seemingly mundane to an outside observer.

With this all said, I will still go through the list of "Greatest Hits" of 2022 below and reflect on some of my memorable experiences of my 45th year around the sun....


As the calendar flipped over, and I returned from visiting family over the holidays (the first such trip since the onset of the pandemic), I was greeted with 2 feet of plowed-in snow at the end of my driveway. Winter had arrived in earnest. This was ok, as it put me in the right frame of mind to tackle one of my biggest challenges of the year. This challenge is likely not what you would think....any sort of physical endeavor on foot, but rather an entirely mental effort. For three weeks in January, as classes were still spinning up to full swing, I effectively locked myself into my home office in order to concentrate the entirety of my mental capacity and acquired knowledge, into writing a detailed National Science Foundation Proposal. This proposal, if funded, would allow me to not only carry out really interesting ice-core science (in the service of the broader ice-coring and glaciology community), but would also allow me to pay my graduate student a salary (and removing the burden of having to TA undergraduate classes). This was an immense source of anxiety and stress for me, and being the first full proposal that I was leading on my own, the pressure was intense. For days I doubted myself and had intense bouts of what is known as "Imposter Syndrome" - where despite my 15+ years of training, education, and experience, I still felt that I was not qualified to carry out the research I was proposing and in effect...didn't really know what I was talking about. Of course now, looking back, I know this was a silly mindset to get myself wrapped up into, but it's nearly impossible as an early-career scientist to NOT doubt yourself. Needless to say, the proposal was ultimately funded in July, which definitely brought about an immense sense of validation and a boost to my self-confidence as a scientist and principal investigator.

January snow

As February inched closer, so did a looming race that I impulsively signed up for: The Wild Oak Trail 200. Back in 2018 I had run the Wild Oak 100...and it took me over 36 hours. The course is brutal and unforgiving...yet somehow I believed in my undertrained state, that I could zip over to Virginia for a quick spell, bang out 200 miles in the woods on this monster course, and be back in time for Tea. The hubris was definitely sky high when I registered for the event. Needless to say I managed to only make it through 2 loops (out of 8) before I pulled the plug. I was not in any shape to attempt such a run....but I was glad to get wildly humbled by the experience. It certainly put me back into my proper place. The good news is that I stuck around at the event for a couple of days to help cheer and crew for a fellow 200-mile runner (Eric). Sadly, he dropped heading out into loop 7 and over 150 miles in, due to injury. I didn't take any photos from my run, but did dig up a photo I took of Eric crossing the creek about 8 miles into his 4th loop.

Eric crossing the creek at around mile 90 in his run.

For the rest of my February and into March, I dove headfirst into my University work. I had a full teaching schedule and a lot of assignments, projects, and field trips to arrange and set up for my classes. But then as Spring Break approached, so did the slightly better weather. For 2022, C and I decided that we would commit to riding the 100 km Lake Tahoe Bike Ride for the LLS charity. C had done the 100-mile version of this ride back in 2017, but I was excited to do the ride together (and the slightly shorter version). With this commitment, came the realization that we needed to start training and getting in some big miles on our road bikes. I was excited by the entire idea of this ride as quite honestly, I needed a break from running, but also wanted to set a tangible goal, and do some fun and focused training. With it being cycling, it also meant that we could train together.

...and so, we dusted off our bikes, and started a regular and regiment of weekend long rides, punctuated with mid-week shorter rides. The first cobweb dusting test-ride came in the form of a 35-mile loop ride down in the much warmer Sedona area.

Loaded up for the first training ride

25 miles into our first ride outside Sedona

Somewhere along the ride

A few weeks later we rode our first "race" of the season, a 45-mile loop ride called the Tour de Mesa. It was a hot day out on the course, made only worse by the fact that we started over an hour late due to a race management mix-up. But we finished and felt like our training was paying off

At the Tour de Mesa

As the weeks pressed on, we continued more of our training rides, which culminated in a 66-mile final ride along the entirety of the South Rim Road of the Grand Canyon, including a trip out to Hermit's Rest.

As this was all happening, I did also start to pick up my running again as I had a planned 100k trail run in April as well: The Zion 100k. I signed up for this run so that I could explore a bit around Zion National Park, but also because it was relatively close, and would give me a Western States Qualifier. As a way to prep for the run, I decided to run Flagstaff's Loop Trail again. This time however, I only ran about 32 miles of it before hanging it up. My goal for the Zion Race had become one of just finishing, so I wasn't worried about having an intense training schedule.

Starting Loop Trail

Along the Loop Trail in view of Mt. Elden

Along the Loop Trail

The view from early in the Zion 100k

Mile 31 of the Zion 100k

It was somewhere around this time that it also occurred to me that it was the 10-year anniversary of my Barkley Running. I received a Finishers book in the mail that featured quotes and responses from each of the Barkley Finishers, and reading my snippets, brought back a wave of memories. For those curious, I am planning on heading back this year (2023), but only to crew a friend. It's been 4 years now since I've been to Frozen Head and wandered around the mountains of the park...

Barkley Book

My finish in 2012

In April, I set out on a rather new type of adventure. At some point in the previous few months, I had been contacted by a fellow adventure motorcyclist down in Phoenix (that rides the same bike as me). We chatted for a bit, and decided to team up for a GPS Waypoint Scramble Rally ride in April. The purpose of this ride would be to tag as many pre-marked waypoints as possible in a 48-hour period. This mean a lot of long rides, off-road, on trails, and through difficult terrain. Needless to say, the adventure was phenomenal and chock full of ridiculousness - including 8 inch deep sand washes, foot high boulder navigation, and steep climbs into the mountains. We camped on this adventure too, which meant I got to turn this adventure into a true moto-camping escapade. We did a massive ride all around Southern Arizona and along the Mexican border that featured some of the most amazing landscapes I've ever seen. The best part was, as a result of this trip, I became a better rider and much more comfortable in difficult terrains (like sand and rocks). I made it the entire weekend without dropping my bike once. On this ride I carried a helmet camera and recorded a lot of great footage as well, which I've condensed below....

Highlights from the Rally

Near the Mexican Border

A small "lake" in Southern Arizona

Council Rocks near Tombstone

High-elevation Meadow Near Mexico

Some off-road riding in the mountains

Our bikes geared up for the trip

Trailered and ready to roll...

Immediately after the ride, I left Flagstaff and headed to Denver to carry out some lab work with my Grad Student. Our goal was to cut and prepare several dozen new samples from some existing cores. These samples would then be analyzed in an effort to learn more about brittle-ice behavior. It was as successful two weeks at the lab, and we came away with some great samples and data.

Ice Core Lab!

Ready for the Freezer

Ice-core favorite!

Samantha prepping new thin-sections of ice

New thin section!

Siple Dome "rubble" ice

And then, in May....I got a new toy. Two things happened actually. I sold my trusty old scooter to a college kid down the street, and bought myself a new scooter in the form of a Honda Trail 125. I had been wanting to upgrade my "scooter" for quite some time, but also wanted something a little more capable off-road. The Honda Trail 125 is really hard to find, and there are wait lists dozens of people long in most places. But, I happened to call a dealership in Phoenix right as they had 3 coming in, and I got on the list for the third and final unit. I excitedly picked it up and over the next 6 months I would put over 1000 miles  on it, and go on some of the craziest little mini adventures. It's been an absolute treat to ride, and still serves as a perfect commuter vehicle (provided there's not 3 feet of snow on the ground....)

Scootie McScootface waiting to be picked up....

Just sold...and awaiting her new maiden voyage

Goodbye and thanks for all the memories!

Picking up the new ride in Phoenix!

On her maiden voyage!

In early June, and after a decent amount of training, I was set to ride the 75-mile Lake Tahoe bike ride. Sadly, due to circumstances outside my control, we had to cancel the trip rather last minute. Rather than get down about it, I opted instead to do a virtual ride in Flagstaff. So, I geared up on the Saturday of the ride, and biked about 38 miles out of town, and 38 miles back. It was a nice day out on the bike, and felt good, but obviously wasn't quite the same as riding around the beautiful Lake Tahoe.

Starting my 75-mile Virtual Tahoe Ride

Finishing my 75-mile Tahoe Ride!

In late June came the Fires in Flagstaff. We were hit hard here in town with two large wildfires: The Pipeline fire and the Tunnel Fire. Both burned nearly half of the large peaks in town. But, before all of the forests shut down, I was able to host a group ride amongst friends that I dubbed, "NAZMAT" or the Northern Arizona Motorcycle Adventure Tour. I marketed it as a 4-day group ride around various quadrants of Flagstaff. The first two days were incredible, but by day 3, we were shut down due to the had to cut it short. Still, we had a great time, and for a first stab at hosting a larger group ride, I think it went pretty well.

Fires in Flagstaff

The gang on the start of Day 2

The gang on the start of Day 1

After NAZMAT and the fires, things eventually calmed down a bit. My young nephew came to visit for a few days and we enjoyed some adventures around town and down in Sedona. The big highlights were renting a 4x4 vehicle and tearing it up on some tracks around the red rocks, and going up to see the Grand Canyon. At one point, we even got to take our the neighbors Honda 50cc mini bike for a spin...


The big ditch


Exploring Walnut Canyon cliff dwellings

Among the red rocks of Sedona

I spent a lot of the Summer taking fun day trips around the trails of Flagstaff on the Honda Trail 125...specifically exploring single track trails, but as July rolled in, so did my preparation for another multi-day moto-camping trip up to the Hardrock 100. 

Some fun on single tracks....

Unlike last year, my plan this year would be to go up through Utah and explore Moab before heading into Colorado, summiting a couple fo 14ers, and then eventually making my way down to Silverton for the race. My trip, much like last year, had its ups and downs. Most notably, I had a few hard spills on the trails and sustained a flat tire at one point. It all added to the "adventure" aspect of the trip, but certainly wasn't ideal. I was able to successfully summit two additional 14ers on the trip though, bringing my total up to 53 of 58. I just need 5 more peaks to have them all!

Day 1 Highlights

Monument Valley

Loaded up, just before leaving...

Canyonlands Utah

Goosenecks State Park

On Conundrum Peak looking at Castle Peak

Day 3 Highlights

Mexican Hat Utah

At the start of the Hardrock 100

Resting in a hammock in Colorado

On Castle Peak

The remainder of the summer was pretty relaxed. I spent some time on the Brompton and made a few modifications to it to make it a bit lighter. Otherwise, though, most of my other "spare" time was spent just screwing around on the Honda or getting ready for the Fall semester.

At one point, C and I did make it up to Page AZ, for a little mini-vacation, and I got to swim in the very low Lake Powell. I also took a short day trip out to one of my favorite places, Meteor Crater.

Lake Powell dip

Meteor Crater

Some old buildings outside of Meteor Crater

As Fall picked up and classes began, I also started picking back up my running. I participated in my first ultra since Zion, by running a local 6-hour event. Additionally, I finally reached the acceptance phase with my age and admitted to myself that I needed glasses. 

The new eyeballs...

The remainder of the Fall and into Winter was honestly somewhat of a blur. I took several short rides on the two different bikes as the days were getting considerable shorter and colder...and even went on a fun hike up Slate Mountain north of Town. I spent quite a bit of time with my dog playing outside and taking hikes as well. We managed to catch the Aspen changing up on the mountain this year. At one point in the Fall, I went on a fun mini-adventure over to Sitgreaves mountain outside of town. I rode the Honda to the base of the mountain, and then essentially bushwacked off trail to the summit. It interesting little jaunt to say the least.

A Fall ride on the Honda

A Fall ride on the Himalayan

A Northern Arizona Tarantula just a few miles down from my house.

On the summit of Slate Mountain

Sitgreaves Hike n' Bike...

My doggo admiring the Aspens

Peak Aspen season!

In November I took a few days to celebrate my birthday by hiding away in a cabin down in Oak Creek Canyon. We took a fun hike up the West Fork trail and it was really nice to just disconnect for a few days. We even completed an entire 1000-piece puzzle in just 36 hours. On Thanksgiving, I ran a local Turkey Trot alongside Olympic Bronze medalist Molly Seidel. She was dressed as a Turkey and eating donuts. Classic.

Hiking in Oak Creek Canyon

Puzzlin' Time!

Molly eating donuts....

I started December with another 6-hour event, this time down in Phoenix and made the commitment to start picking up my running again. While on the course, I discovered I was selected for BOTH Western States 100 AND the Hardrock 100 for Summer 2023. I was definitely going to have to increase my training...

6-hour event (Fat Ox) in Phoenix where I learned about the Double.

A couple weeks later, I watched as 13 students in our Climate MS program graduated and moved on in their life journeys. It is always exciting to see the cohorts graduate.

Climate Science MS Graduates

During Graduation

For the remainder of December, I increased my running significantly and finally started hitting 50-mile weeks again. I set up an aggressive running schedule for Spring and made the mental commitment to prepare myself for the Double. I even started using the NAU track. AT one point, I even got out my bike and went on a 25-mile ride.

NAU's track

December riding...

But then along with the Holidays....the snows came. In the four years I've been here, I've not experienced snow quite like this. In the course of a few days, we received almost 40 inches and our entire city essentially shut down. I was relegated to running on the treadmill...

25 inches and counting

The view out the back door

A freshly shoveled driveway...

I suppose the last real update and project from 2022, came in the form of some long overdue work on compiling my many adventures into a more formal and official format. I have been pecking away slowly, and putting together a list of some of my favorite places and have VERY SLOWLY been trying to put them together. I would spend 10 minutes here, or maybe twenty minutes there... But this year, I dedicated some real time to organizing these notes and thoughts and have made significant progress. I have several chapters completed now, and a full outline of what I'd like to have in the end. Ever time I finish a "chapter", I've also recorded myself reading that chapter and posted it online in the form of a Podcast. Turns out, making a podcast is literally just taking a recording, and uploading it to a central site. It then gets disseminated to various podcast platforms automatically. It's probably the easiest thing I've ever done. Very few people have listened to my posts, but I'm honestly doing it more as a record for myself, and as a way to keep me motivated. There will be 22 chapters in total, and I'm over half-way through it's starting to feel like real progress. Once I've finished, I also plan to put slap it all together and put out a companion text.

I've titled the entire project: Treks to Nowhere

You can listed to the episodes (and me blabbing away for 20 minutes at a time) or watch the companion videos below:

And that just about wraps it up for 2022. There were a lot of other smaller highlights and adventures that I was lucky enough to be a part of last year that I didn't include here, but the short of it, is that I was again incredibly fortunate to have such a fulfilling and wonderful year. I look forward to 2023, and all that might come with it!

Never stop exploring everyone and I'll see you up the trail,

-Lakewood (John)