2020 in photos

January

This was our first full month with our new dog, Quinn, so most of it was spent showing him the ropes. The “no dogs in the bed” rule went to hell immediately.

We got him used to being around bikes…

…and skis.

We still thought he was a puppy at this point—we later found out that he was just a small adult—so we took him to a lot of puppy socialization groups. Here he is, a full-grown man terrorizing a baby dog:

Gradually, the boys became friends.

We did a lot of hiking. Quinn discovered he really loved trails.

Our niece, Willa, came over to decorate sugar cookies. It was charming/gross.

I was training for the L.A. Marathon, so I spent a lot of time like this:

February

We started the month camping at Pyramid Lake—my first visit! I did a 20-mile run out-and-back along the highway at dawn and it was unbelievable.

We visited my family in the Bay Area over Presidents’ Day weekend. I did my final 20-miler for L.A….

…and we took plenty of walks up the hill behind my parents’ neighborhood (my favorite place on earth).

We visited my brother and sister-in-law and met our nephew, Wes, for the first time!

I knit him a baby blanket, keeping my niece/nephew blanket tradition gonig strong.

We voted in the Democratic primary. Warren 2020! (Update from the future: didn’t work out as planned.)

We went skiing like one time total. Mo might have gone twice.

We watched Daisy and Ellie, bringing the dog:human ratio to 2:1—just how I like it.

March

I developed a debilitating addiction to HOKA Rincons.

We drove to Los Angeles for the marathon! We stayed in Silver Lake, which was delightful.

Best of all, we got to see Juliette, Jack, John, and of course Charlie.

I was nervous for the marathon but I was pretty sure I could nail my goal of sub-4:00. I prepped everything just so…

…but the course had other plans, and my total inability to chill got in the way. I blew up hard at mile 19 and ended up with a 4:07:10. Lessons learned! They still give you a medal even if you don’t hit your A goal.

We had one of the best breakfasts of my vegan-ish life at Counterpart Deli on our way out of L.A. the next day. Driving back to Reno, we heard a lot about coronavirus on the radio.

COVID-19 blew up that week. Morgan and I were both supposed to travel to the PNW for work; my trip got cancelled due to the virus, but his went ahead. Looking back, it’s amazing to think that having just driven from hotspot L.A., Mo hopped on a plane to hotspot Seattle. OH MARCH. The dogs and I managed at home, unaware that this was about to become our whole life.

We got a jump on the homemade bread phase of lockdown.

We started working from home! We enjoyed the novelty: two whole weeks of surprise WFH. Nine months later, I am still into it. Mo maybe less so.

I started running most days, often on trails with the dogs.

There was a lot of at-home yoga and strength work. This reminds me I really need to dig Running Rewired back out of storage.

We started exploring new-to-us trails on the other side of Peavine—we love Hoge Road!

I tested A LOT of women’s sandals for OutdoorGearLab.

April

We did the 12-mile round-trip hike up the river canyon to the Lagomarsino Petroglyphs. I didn’t really care about the petroglyphs but the hike was amazing.

I staretd a new sweater, Andrea Mowry’s Throwover. It’s worsted weight so quick and satisfying to knit.

We spent a lot of time at the dog park.

These were the days of the great run on toilet paper, so we bought a bidet. Recommended!

As part of Mikkeller Running Club’s running bingo challenge (which defined my early pandemic experience), the dogs and I ran up Rattlesnake Mountain (after learning that Rattlesnake Mountain exists).

My family all created stop-motion films to share with the group. Mine featured Mr. Stick’s ascent of Mt. Hat just before it was destroyed by a meteor/ball.

We tried to go backpacking but the road to our trailhead was closed, possibly due to the pandemic (?). So we just backpacked up the road.

It ended up being a pretty fun weekend!

And I’m pretty sure it was Quinn’s first time in a tent. This sums up the experience:

Out frontyard blooms were a big source of joy, and we had so much time to look at them during lockdown.

We perfected the ergonomics of WFH.

May

We headed out for a beautiful, chilly overnight in Carson-Iceberg…

…including a great happy hour stroll up a ridge above our campsite…

…and a heroic assist across a river from Mo to Quinn.

We made our own masks!! (this is Mo’s)

(and mine—I look like Hanibal)

We got insanely into chickpeas and started regularly eating a meal we called “chickpeas three ways”: fried chickpeas and hummus over socca (a chickpea pancake).

We started up a semi-regular tradition of going for a trail run after work and having beers at the trailhead, which we call family Fridays. This is one of my favorite things to come out of the pandemic.

We took a socially distant camping trip with Ty, Ruth, and Willa in Dog Valley.

We scrambled up Alpine Walk Peak.

We went on another backpack in Carson-Iceberg, this time over to Fish Valley.

I couldn’t tear myself away from my new Follett book.

And Quinn learned about begging.

We painted! This led to a major fight and we hated each other for a day or so, but it ended up worth it.

June

We trekked out to Phoenix Lake for the weekend to hang out and test Quinn’s new backpacking pack.

We borrowed a dehydrator from friends and got super into it.

We started a week-long backpacking trip on the PCT. It was a great challenge and a much-needed change of pace. We started out from Carson Pass.

We all enjoyed relaxing at the end of each day, maybe Banner most of all.

There were a zillion beautiful lakes on our route.

We very much enjoyed our new UL tent.

July

Our backpacking trip continued. We detoured off the PCT to take in more of Granite Chief Wilderness.

It was a good decision. So beautiful!

We definitely nearned our snacks each day.

River stops were a highlight of each day.

On our last day, we had a stunning route along the ridge beyond Tinker Knob. A fantastic end to a really great trip.

Post-trip, we took down an astonishing amount of Ben and Jerry’s non-dairy ice cream.

I packed up my old office in preparation for the College of Engineering’s great shuffle up. I ended up moving just around the corner, where my stuff remains in boxes.

Mo drove to Washington for a month-long work trip, and I I started a two-week strict quarantine in preparation for visiting my parents. It was pleasant, long, short, open-ended, regimented, stimulating, mind-numbing. It was a weird time.

We did sneak out for a couple early-morning runs by Patagonia where we weren’t likely to run into anyone.

August

I went to stay with family in the East Bay! It was so worth the weird quarantine—this was such a great trip. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew were there as well, having done their own quarantine.

The twice-daily dog feed was a major production.

We did many runs up the hill! The day I ran up with my brother and found my dad up there by chance was a highlight of my year.

I rode bikes with my SIL and nephew.

And did a big long trail run with my brother and mum.

There was a major yard remodel going on.

We staged a 5K race—I’ve never been so proud to come in last (3rd place!).

I headed to my other brother’s house for a couple days, soaking up my newest nephew…

…and participating in some intense cribbage.

And then it was back to Reno for the hellish fire season. This was grim.

It was either smokey or hazy for the rest of the month, but there were at least a few days that were good for a trail run.

We did manage to find a clear couple days for an overnight up to West Lake out of the Green Lakes trailhead. We took an incredible scramble up to the Par Value Lakes.

It ended up being quite a big day but was a highlight of my year for sure.

We hiked out and hit the road just in time to see the beginnings of the Slink Fire in our beloved Carson-Iceberg ūüė¶

September

I started fall classes, including chem lab.

I turned 34. I don’t remember this.

We spent a week in Santa Barbara. It was still weird and smokey, but at least there was the beach. Quinn fell in love.

I took what may turn out to be my last run on the Westmont Track, as Mo’s dad is renting out their family house.

Cali the cat went from being 100% nasty to being 95% nasty and 5% tolerant. LITTLE DID I KNOW what this foreshadowed.

We made the decision to incorporate Cali into our family. She came back to Reno with us and settled in. Everyone is still adjusting!

We walked from Incline Lake to the stateline and the dogs sat in separate states.

We enjoyed a family Friday with the boys’ friend Penny.

Quinn and Penny fell all the way in love.

October

The boys and I ran up Relay Peak for one of the best sunrises of the year.

We started to plan the boys’ Halloween costumes, but this is as far as we got. Any guesses??

We celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary and 11th year together with 11 miles up Relay. We each shared a memory every mile for the corresponding year. A delightful experience!

Cali continued to wheedle her way into our routines/hearts.

We spent a gorgeous morning in Desolation cheersing our friends Lisa and Dante, who got married that day in the Bay Area.

Because backpacking wasn’t allowed due to wildfires, there was absolutely no one about—it was the quietest and most beautiful I’ve ever seen Desolation.

We voted! (for Biden/Harris.)

I gave myself a pretty solid quarantine haircut.

The neighborhood kids upped their PSA game.

November

We joined the rest of the United States in election anxiety…

…and it turned out well! I proudly wore red, white, and blue on a Mikkeller run the day Biden’s victory was announced.

It snowed! Instead of staying inside with hot chocolate like normal people, we ran Jones-Whites plus Church Pond.

We acclimated to living in a zoo.

We epically lost Quinn up the Truckee River canyon on a Thanksgiving Day run, but found him two hours later through the abundant kindness of strangers. I’ve never been more relieved.

We had a truly incredible two-person vegan Thanksgiving.

Finally, we headed to an Airbnb in Oregon for the start of an insane vacation.

Every day included a great trail run.

And an amazing sunset.

December

Beach access from our bnb was unbelievable.

And being in the Oregon lushness was a balm to the soul.

I cannot oversell the sunsets.

We got some quality schnoozin in.

We were staying up in the hills so the views were sweet.

The Oregon Coast Trail turned out to be a singletrack gem.

I reaffirmed that Banner is my favorite soul on earth.

And that Morgan is also up there.

We leaned into cookies to smooth the transition back to our lockdown lives.

Skiing got off to a bumpy start, with a weird snowpack and light coverage. Still, nice to be out.

We got Quinn a light-up vest for night runs—one of the best purchases of 2020.

I got a short story published in Like the Wind’s marathon supplement—very proud!

I went to the ER because I was concerned about a blood clot and it turned out to be a classic case of Absolutely Nothing.

And that’s it! Now it’s Christmas Eve and 2020 is just about winding down. I don’t know if I’d do this year over again, but we’ve certainly been among the luckiest people out there. I’m grateful for family, friends, modern medicine, pets, books, podcasts, running, food, and television. And I’m looking forward to 2021.

The Searcher

Author: Tana French

Published: 2020 (but it really felt like 2019)

How I got it: Bought it the day it was released from Sundance, the best bookstore around.

What’s going on there: A Chicago police detective retires and moves to a small Irish village to get away from the perils of modern big-city American life: overwork, stress, disconnection from people and nature, possibly racism (???), and incomprehensible women. He is determined to lean into his quiet, rural existence and leave his former dogged detective ways behind, but surprise! unsolved mysteries come looking for him when a feral neighbor kid ropes him into helping look for their missing brother. If you were thinking that things were what they seemed in this sleepy, idyllic town, you’d be wrong.

My take: Bottom line: I love Tana French and I will read and enjoy anything she writes. She could write about a disgruntled cop’s afternoon at IKEA and I would cancel my plans and get to reading. But since she abandonned the Dublin Murder Squad and ventured out with The Witch Elm and now The Searcher, I’ve felt my faith waiver. Like The Witch Elm, The Searcher is an easy-to-read page-turner—I spent a whole morning in bed reading this and drinking coffee because I just didn’t want to stop. But also like The Witch Elm, I spent the whole book just barely holding off an eye-roll. The characters in The Searcher are unlikeable and weirdly alien—everyone seems to have sixth senses for when the feeling in a room shifts or what the subtle furrowing of someone else’s brow means, where in real life I don’t think the average citizen is anywhere near that astute.

The protagonist, Cal Hooper, feels sloppily put together: he’s a long-time Chicago cop but he spent a lot of his childhood in North Carolina, so his accent is rendered as aggressively southern, which a) makes him feel like a caricature, and b) feels wrong given how long he’s been away from the south. His motivations for moving to Ireland are totally unclear—if he wanted somewhere more peaceful and rural, maybe he could have tried Wisconsin?

Probably the most disappointing part of the book for me was the central mystery: in other Tana French books, the what happened is complicated and twisty and dark enough that when it’s revealed, your jaw drops open and your blood runs cold. But in The Searcher, the mystery just kind of plays out. There wasn’t much of a build-up, and when the truth was revealed, my feeling was, “Oh, so that’s what happened.”

Maybe I would have liked The Searcher more if it was the first Tana French I’d read; then again, maybe I wouldn’t have read any more. I would recommend it as a vacation read, but only for those (like me) who suffer from regular Tana French withdrawals.

Judged by its cover: This cover is fine—it wouldn’t incentivize me to pick up the book if I didn’t know the author, but it’s inoffensive and I appreciate the balanced sans-serif font. I do love this color palette, but the image is nothing special.

If this book was food: The Searcher is a toasted jalapeno-cheddar bagel slathered in garlic-chive cream cheese. Consuming it is delightful and lights up every corner of your pleasure centers. But as soon as you’re done, you feel a little gross and you’re going to be hungry again in an hour. I’m not saying don’t get the bagel—feel free to enjoy the bagel! But see it for what it is and follow it up with a more nutritious offering, like a veggie omlette (which in this hyperextended metaphor would probably be a Murakami).

Lives of the Monster Dogs

Author: Kirsten Bakis

Published: 1997 (surprising! this felt much more contemporary)

How I got it: Morgan picked this out based entirely on its cover (see below) while we were browsing in a local bookshop while visiting friends in Chicago. It sat unfinished by him and untouched by me on our shelf for nearly a year, at which point it was almost relegated to the donation pile but I saved it at the last second after I read the jacket. Very glad I did!

What’s going on there: This book answers that age-old question: What would happen if an engineered race of mechanized sterile human-like dogs overthrew their overlords and moved en masse to New York City? Spoiler: A bummer would ensue. The book primarily follows Cleo, a young woman who is befriended by the dogs thanks to her +/- resemblance to their creator’s mother, and Ludwig, an outsider dog trying to document the history of his dying race before he goes insane.

My take: I loved reading this book. The premise is so weird it feels refreshing, like a reminder that what we think of as normal is pretty arbitrary and that the little minutae we stress out about would be totally different if we were…well, a small, ill-fated group of mechanical human/dogs. Cleo is delightful, and I found her well-intentioned but ultimately totally selfish and counter-productive efforts to help Ludwig painfully relatable. The writing is beautiful and perfectly captures the cold and damp of a sad, dark winter in New York. My only knock is more on me than on the book: it’s clearly an allegory, but I don’t get it. There is very obviously some kind of larger point being made that I’m totally missing, due to the fact that I have zero imagination and am unable to see beyond the literal words in front of me. So while this book is probably about the futility of the human condition or the fact that at the end of the day, we all end up alone, I just read it as a weird dark story about dog folks and loved it.

Judged by its cover: I love this cover! Who wouldn’t? It’s got all the good stuff: an appealing color palette, dogs, collage, a little bit of a newspaper feel, and those nicely balanced blurbs. Kudos to designer Abby Kagan.

If this book was food: Bear with me here: I’m going to go with an Indian pizza. You know, how some game Indian restaurants will put a pizza on the menu where the crust is naan, the sauce is straight from tikka masala, and it’s topped with paneer and like, peas? And you order it kind of as a joke, but it ends up being really unexpectedly delicious. You’re not going to switch your standard order from saag aloo to Indian pizza or anything, but you respect the fact that something built entirely on quirk ended up being legitimately good. That’s this book.

identities and slippery slopes

I pride myself in being able to do what I set my mind to. Keeping up a running routine has never felt like a challenge because if I’ve decided to run five days per week, I’ll do it. Over the weekend, I decided I was going to run get my body up Relay Peak before 9am on Sunday and I did, even though I’d planned a little poorly the day before and had to get out of my cozy bed at 4:30am to make it happen.

The flip side to the spirit of this post: sometimes it really is a good idea to drag yourself out of bed for a run. Up Relay Peak at dawn, one of the best runs ever.

But there’s a difference between being able to do what you set your mind to and being unable to do anything else. I’m working on understanding that difference in many areas of my life right now, running included. I have a fear of breaking the chain, of falling off the wagon and losing all control and never being able to do what I want to do again. Missing a scheduled training run is so much more than a missed run to me—it’s a break in a smooth, perfect line, it’s the first crack that leads to the whole house crumbling, it’s a brief glimpse into an alternate universe where I only run when I feel like it and I never feel like it. It’s the first step down a slippery slope to my inevitable obesity, shame, social isolation, and lonely death. I want to say that I’m exaggerating here, but if I play the tape all the way out, I’m not. When all else fails, what motivates me to get out of bed on an icy December morning when I don’t feel well and I have an eight-mile tempo run on the schedule is the idea that if I don’t, I’ll die miserable and alone and it’ll be my fault.

Which, you know, is a challenging way to live your life. My ability to stick with things has done a lot of good for me, but it creates some problems too. It makes me run too far/too fast and push niggling pains into actual injuries because those are the paces and distances on the schedule. It has me sitting outside in the freezing rain, throwing a tennis ball for my dog when both of us would rather be cozy indoors, because I’m committed to giving him 30 minutes of tennis ball each night no matter what. It pushes me to resent things I usually love, like cooking, because We Don’t Eat Out During The Week so we have to cook from scratch every night even when it’s the last thing I want to do. Worst of all, the all-or-nothing mentality leaves me perpetually on the edge of the second half of that phrase: nothing. If I have to stick to every run on the schedule to be a runner, and I miss a run, then that’s it: I’m not a runner anymore. If good dog owners play with their dogs every day without fail, and I fail today, then that’s it: I’m a bad dog owner. And since no one is perfect, and every chain eventually breaks, this mentality leaves you with a whole lot of used-to-bes and nothings.

So I’m working on it. I need to work on this idea in lots of areas of life, but as usual, running serves as a pretty good laboratory to test it out. Yesterday, I decided that this morning would be perfect for a five-mile trail run on Peavine. It would have to be early to fit in with the rest of the morning routine, which meant starting the run in the dark around 5:40am, so I laid out my clothes and went to bed early and even did my secret trick to ensure I would get out of bed when my alarm went off: I visualized the worst-case scenario where I absolutely don’t want to get up and can’t imagine swinging my feet out of bed but I do it anyway and go through the motions of putting my clothes on and getting breakfast stuff ready and going for the run and it’s great.

So this morning, when my alarm went off and I absolutely didn’t want to get up and couldn’t imagine swinging my feet out of bed, I did it anyway and I went through the motions of putting my clothes on and…damn. I stood in the bathroom, looking at my wrecked and sleepy face in the mirror, knowing that I was about to wrestle the dogs out of bed and haul them into the car to go run up a hill in the dark, and I just didn’t want to do it. The familiar slippery-slope feeling crept in—“are you just skipping runs now? what’s to stop you from skipping tomorrow too, and the next day? if you don’t get up for this run, why get up for work, or for anything?”—but this time I tried to bring some logic in. Have I ever had a period of no running for no reason in the last 3-4 years? Have I ever skipped a run and spontaneously gained 25 pounds? Have I ever decided not to run, regretted it, and then died of that regret? Do I know people who I consider to be great runners who take days, weeks, even months off running, and then get back into it? Could I possibly get back into bed instead of going for this run and then just run later, or tomorrow, or next week, and have it be ok?

I’m taking a class called Human Lifespan Development, and right now we’re learning about early childhood, ages 2-6. An interesting thing that happens during these years is that children start to understand certain things about themselves and the world and they hold onto these understandings more and more tightly. For instance, gender: a 2-year-old might start to understand that they are a boy or a girl, and then by 3ish they really identify as their gender and prefer same-gender playmates, and by age 4-5 they’re super strict and firm about it: I’m a girl so I wear girl clothes and play with girl toys and girl friends and do girl activities and boy stuff is gross and not for me. But then, as they transition into middle childhood around age 6 or so, the rigidity of some of these ideas starts to wear off. Kids start to understand the idea of conservation: there are certain aspects of their being that make them the gender that they are (basically, how they feel and identify), and those aspects don’t change just because they put on pants or play with a truck. As kids feel more secure in their identities, they’re better able to relax those identities a bit, knowing that they have a core sense of what they are that they can always return to.

It’s embarassing to realize that I’m still working on the sense-of-self stuff that most people tackle at age 5, but I found this to be a pretty useful way of thinking about the difference between being able to do what you set your mind to and being unable to do anything else. I’m a runner: I know that because I’ve run 1,200 miles and counting this year, and more than 1,000 miles both of the years before that, and at least some distance every year since I was 13. I know I’m a runner because half my clothes are running clothes; because I own five pairs of shoes and four of them are HOKAs; because I have groups of friends I run with and because I have no idea how many 5Ks I’ve run and because I’ve finished two marathons. I’m a runner because I ran yesterday; I’m a runner because I’ll run tomorrow, or the day after that, or next week. If I skip a run—even a run I had every intention of doing and have no great excuse not to do—I’ll still be a runner.

So this morning, still wearing all my running clothes including socks, I climbed back into bed with my husband and dog and enjoyed an extra 1.5 hours of great sleep and woke up feeling better than I had in a week. I’m still wearing my running clothes, and I might make it out for a run at lunch, but I might not. I’ll run tomorrow, or the next day. I’ll still be a runner.

three-dog weekend

Nice mellow weekend over here. We had crisp temperatures and blue skies, which I hope I never take for granted again given the recent (and ongoing) wildfires that blanketed our city in smoke for weeks straight. It’s a simple but immense joy to walk outside on a chilly fall morning, see blue sky, and breathe clean air.

I took it easy on the running front this weekend because I’ve been having some pain/tenderness in my right hip, or more like the top of my right pelvis (? is that my hip? do I even totally know where/what the pelvis is? it seems like a basic working knowledge of anatomy/skeletal structure would really come in handy sometimes). I think all the fast intervals during mile training didn’t agree with my body, as I felt tight and slightly out of whack for the whole training block. Yet more evidence that I am built for longer slow-medium efforts over short fast efforts. Anyway, taking it easy looked like two short evening trail runs, both around 4.5 miles. We’ve been watching our friends’ dog, Penny (a regular guest), so we had quite the pack.

On Friday after work, we headed to Galena to run the connector trail between the visitors’ center and Whites Creek. I used to really dislike this trail because I only ran it at the end of the Jones-Whites loop, and it was always somehow longer and hillier than I remembered. But Morgan’s been doing it as a short out-and-back and in that format, it’s delightful—enough elevation to feel like a little workout, but short enough that it can be tucked in as an after-work outing. Plus it’s never crowded and it’s actually quite pretty:

Moonrise over Galena.
We were a little nervous to let Penny off leash as she’s not our dog, so we took our time and reminded her where the treats came from. Turns out there was nothing to worry about—she is a champion off-leash trail runner and was frankly better mannered than our mangy mutts.
LOOK AT THIS GUY.

We have a semi-regular habit now of heading to the trail after work on Friday, running ~4-6 miles, calling in an Indian food order right when we get back to the car, and then enjoying a trailhead beer+chips to pass the time until the food is ready. It’s pretty sweet.

Sunday was another mellow evening trail run with the same cast of characters. I’d had a pretty lazy and indulgent Sunday (I had a piece of pumpkin bread and two croissants for breakfast, so the wheels had essentially come off), so it felt good to stretch the legs and enjoy the glorious weather before settling in to dinner and the first two episodes of Ted Lasso. We went to the hills behind Patagonia, which in terms of total family satisfaction is probably our little tribe’s favorite place to run.

Moonrise over Patagonia.
It’s not exactly secluded (what’s up I-80!), but I love this spot—hills for miles, the river nearby, and as much singletrack as we want.
This is now Quinn lives in my mind: as a flowing curve of light.

It was one of those evenings that makes me grateful to live where I live, be married to who I’m married to, own the dogs I own, and have the body I have.

Penny goes home today—we will all miss her (except Cali the cat, who is Stage 5 traumatized by the addition of yet another dog), but I think Quinn may miss her the most:

Come the fuck on.

My hip/pelvis/whatever is feeling great today, so I’m hoping to do a longer mixed-media run after work. More blue skies today so the week is off to a great start.

putting the mile to rest

I finished nine straight weeks of mile training last week, culminating in a mile that was…not very fast (in fact, 10-15 seconds slower than the baseline mile I started with!). I learned a couple things:

  1. I don’t love running at the upper end of my speed range. The feeling of almost being unable to go on, even if I can technically go on, is so unpleasant that I can’t believe people like and routinely train for medium-short distances like the mile or the 800 (even the 400 can be such a minkfuck). It’s brutal, and I want to spend as little time as possible in that state.
  2. My mental game is absolutely the weakest part of whatever I have going on, especially at short distances. I was really, really working on mental strategies to get myself through my workouts and the race itself, and way more often than not, I mentally tanked. I basically had the yips.
  3. You’d don’t have to do what you don’t want to do. This is a lesson for which the opposite is also true (you do have to do what you don’t want to do), and maybe which side of the lesson we need to learn alternates throughout our lives. After this training block, I definitely needed to learn (relearn, for the millionth time) that you don’t have to do what you don’t want to do. A friend—a very speedy and goodhearted friend—offered to pace me through a track mile after my race didn’t pan out how I wanted, because she knew I could do better. And my first impulse was that I had to say yes—I needed to conquer the mile! I should be able to run a fast mile! I had it in me! You should say yes to hard things! Push yourself! But hey. HEY. I had just spent nine weeks pushing myself, and I was getting wound up so tight about paces and mental toughness and the pain cave (LOL given my 6:30 mile goal pace) I was at risk of spontaneously combusting. I just didn’t want to run at mile pace anymore. So I said no, and man, did that feel like the right decision.

So now mile training is behind me and I’m just out here running. The only thing I’m really working toward now is hitting my 1,500-mile goal for the year, which I’ll get if I can average ~100 miles each month through December 31—not too hard. I’m also going to try for 135 miles in October because of some virtual Badwater thing my mum and aunt are doing—really need to get clear on the details as October is minutes away. Like a salmon returning to its spawning grounds (or a dog returning to its vomit), I have a sort of default impulse to start marathon training again, even without a race to trot toward. Maybe I’ll sign up for something virtual in February to give some structure to my winter running. I’m also contemplating trying to run the year (2,021 miles) next year, so I’ll need to start building up miles for that. All just various semi-arbitrary scaffolds to put around this thing that is running.

In other news, we got a cat! For the record, we had a cat—the world’s best—but he died and I don’t want to talk about it. Now, we have inherited another cat. Her name is Cali (godawful, but it’s too late to change it) and she is geriatric and pretty mean. This is what our lives are mostly about now:

Decided to use this adorable round-cornered feature WordPress offered me because it captures Quinn’s cartoonish attempts to establish a working relationship with Cali.

It’s actually delightful to have a cat around the house again, and Cali isn’t nearly as mean as we thought now that we are her primary food source. So now when I come home sweaty from a run, I’m covered in three kinds of pet hair instead of just two, and that’s about as much of an update as I’ve got these days.

Carson Pass to Donner Pass along the PCT

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Last week, we packed our bags and took seven days to hike from Carson Pass to Donner Pass along the PCT. Here’s the trip in photos and captions.

Day 1: Carson Pass to Bryan Meadow

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It begins. These smiles are fairly genuine, even though everyone is carrying ridiculously loaded packs. The dogs are carrying about 2/3rds of their kibble each; we are carrying everything else.

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Despite his stuffed pack, Quinn still sprinted on and off the trail like a maniac.

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Floating along with Round Top in the background.

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The first of one billion tarns, this one extra pretty. Round Top, in the background, was visible from passes almost till the end of our trip.

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A gorgeous hanging meadow just past Showers Lake. The scenery on this first half of the first day was way cooler than I was expecting, setting the tone for good things ahead.

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Day 1 mistake: Leaving the chocolate-laced trail mix in the top pocket of my pack and then walking for hours in the sun. On the upside, this essentially created early-stage Muddy Buddies and I scooped up the mixture like a bear.

Day 2: Bryan Meadow to Tamarack Lake

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I took approx. zero photos for most of this day because most of it was a) a surprisingly steep descent to Echo “Summit”, and b) a mad conveyer belt of people along the side of Lower Echo Lake, which is maybe my least favorite trail in California. But! After an insanely windy day, we pitched our tent at beautiful Tamarack Lake just steps from this glorious view and the wind immediately died. Happy hour, lots of book time, a FREAKING GREAT dinner, and a windless, cozy night ensued. Heaven. Also, The Pillars of the Earth is perfect for backpacking.

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After a long and pretty hard day of rocky trails, Banner hunkered down on his mat and refused to move. Please pay silent compliment to the resplendence of Banner’s fur in the light of the setting sun.

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Quinn, Head of the Watch.

Day 3: Tamarack Lake to Dick’s Lake

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GLORIOUS start to the day. I woke up early to watch the sunrise and soak up the priceless feeling that is being firmly into but not yet halfway done with a great trip. Worth leaving the coziness of my sleeping bag for.

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On our climb away from Tamarack Lake, Quinn encountered marmots for the first time. He basically couldn’t believe what he was seeing and spent many minutes staring wide-eyed and hyperalert at the megasquirrels taunting him from the rocks.

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A fairly accurate depiction of the dynamic between me and Morgan accompanied by Lake Aloha.

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A couple of soulmates hanging out at unbelievably clear and beautiful Lake Aloha.

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And then we climbed Dick’s Pass! This climb was actually fairly gentle and largely shaded and featured fully rewarding views the whole way, so it was a highlight of the day and possibly the trip. I believe this is Halfmoon Lake, which we didn’t visit but which I’d like to go back to.

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Gained the pass to find Dick’s Lake and Fontanillis laid out in front of us—a real highlight of the trip. It looked like we could put on our rain pants and slide down to the lake if we wanted, but we stuck to the trail like suckers and suffered a hard downhill two miles from here.

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We are walking from here (Round Top, just below Morgan’s finger)…

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…to here (Tinker Knob, just a knuckle away from my fingertip)!

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There was a ridiculous pileup on the way down to Dick’s Lake which led to a goldrush scramble for campsites when we got there (the worst, but what did we expect during summer in Desolation?), but we snagged this funky little spot which turned out to be one of my favorites of the trip. The flow between Dick’s and Fontanillis is just to the left, so we had our own private (and very pretty) creek.

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Wise Quinn contemplating Fontanillis during happy hour. Every night before dinner, we’d each get a little bag of crispy snacks and share 100ml of whiskey (the smell of which is never going to come out of our dromedary). It was a totally delightful ritual and was usually the highlight of each day.

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Me and my funky little #2 pup.

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Basically models.

Day 4: Dick’s Lake to Richardson Lake

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Waking up at Dick’s Lake was so pretty. We really lucked out with the weather on this trip, with bright cloudless sunrises every morning and no rain at all.

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Fontanillis, a dark horse contender for my favorite lake of the trip. I’d like to come back here for an overnight and swim in each of its little bays.

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A theme emerges: I take a selfie of us while Morgan studies the map (everyone doing their part). This was at one of our best lunch stops, at the top of…some climb somewhere, I don’t remember. But it was definitely a semi-relentless climb and we were happy to be done with it and rewarded with a bug-free zone and the view below.

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We live on nut butters, and this trip was brought to you by Justin’s. We brought four almond butter flavors on this trip, and this was the second-best. The cinnamon flavor is best (pure poetry), then maple, then hazelnut (surprisingly weak), with classic plain bringing up the rear. Note, though, that putting classic plain on a white chocolate macadamia nut Clif Bar will elevate the whole combination almost to cinnamon status.

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Banner has a fun habit of settling down EXACTLY where we plan to set up the tent. At Richardson Lake, Morgan basically erected the entire tent on top of him before he grudgingly shoved off.

Day 5: Richardson Lake to Bear Pen Creek

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Waking up to the sun on our feet at Richardson Lake. I liked these grass shadow puppets.

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My heart outside my body.

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Richardson Lake was probably my least favorite camp spot (you can drive to it so it didn’t exactly feel secluded, and it was buggy AF in places), but damn if it wasn’t still beautiful in the morning.

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The unrelenting vigilance of Quinn.

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The long wooded stretch from Richardson Lake to Barker Pass wasn’t flashy, but it was shady and pleasant and full of wildflowers and it was wonderful to have nothing to do but walk through the woods. From here, we decided to diverge from the PCT for a day and hike through Granite Chief, where water was more plentiful. Bye, PCT!

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Not on the PCT anymore! Powderhorn Trail in Granite Chief was way steeper and more overgrown than the smooth graded highway of a trail we’d been cruising along since the beginning of our trip.

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Into Granite Chief! A whole new wilderness for all of us.

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Hell Hole Trail, looking decidedly unhellish. Seemed like a Greenland/Iceland situation.

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Two kinds of natural beauty.

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Another day, another happy hour. We were far enough into the trip here that Quinn was showing signs of being pooped.

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This happy hour spot was fantastic—we were at the top of a gorgeous meadow with all kinds of wildflowers off to our left and big, shambling peaks in front of us, with golden hour light flooding everything. It feels so luxurious to be done with the day’s chores and relax with a snack and a drink in the woods. (In reality, we decided immediately after this to relocate our whole campsite, because Morgan had a bad feeling about our creekside spot vis a vis bears. So the chores were very much not done yet, but as we ate our snacks in the meadow they¬†felt like they were done.)

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Moonrise over the meadow near Bear Pen Creek.

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A fairly big day! Other than my two marathons, I don’t know if I’ve ever had this many steps in a day.

Day 6: Bear Pen Creek to Mountain Meadow Lake Creek

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Morning in the meadow. We bought the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 right before our trip (to replace our WWII-era Sierra Designs three-person condo) and were really happy with it (less than three pounds and still plenty of room for two of us and two dogs!). Morgan said it was “like waking up inside a tangerine”, which I think is great.

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We enjoyed a long, easy climb along Five Lakes Creek before rejoining the PCT. Banner was pumped for the cruisy trail. In the background, witness Quinn’s most annoying new habit: booping, in which he jumps up on us whenever we pause for longer than two seconds. We are working on booping.

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We stopped for lunch halfway up Whiskey Creek, where Morgan tried and basically failed to get a shot of this long and precipitous drop. Just know that while I may look relaxed, I am being a bit of a daredevil here.

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Lunch on a hot day with my feet in an ice-cold creek. I don’t want much more than this.

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Q and B cooling their stems in Whiskey Creek.

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And as usual, Morgan keeps us on track.

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Out of Granite Chief! We walked the whole length of it, which I think is pretty cool.

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I’m not sure what I’m pointing at here (Dick’s Peak maybe?) but it felt important at the time so I thought I’d include it.

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Tahoe Lake! It was cool to catch glimpses of the lake throughout the trip, and to know that we walked from well south of it to well north of it. I think this was our last glimpse.

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Our planned camp spot for that night was the middle fork of the American River, but that was only seven miles into our day, and when we got there the spot was pretty uninspiring. We decided to press on to the creek coming out of tiny Mountain Meadow Lake, the last water source before the big dry section along the ridge around Tinker Knob and Benson Hut. This was a GOOD DECISION! The scenery between the middle fork and the creek was some of the best of the trip, and it was gorgeous in the afternoon sunshine.

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Me accepting Quinn’s marriage proposal, with Tinker Knob looking on approvingly.

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Against all odds, the camp spot at the creek was definitely the best of the trip and there was no one else around. We had a brilliant due-west view, so sunset made our whole camp glow golden.

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Final happy hour! We have been in the woods for six days and we are looking GOOD.

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I felt like there weren’t enough shots of me and Quinn in here so here’s one more.

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Morgan looking like the entire cast of The Outsiders rolled into one while we wait for dinner to be ready.

Day 7: Mountain Meadow Lake Creek to Donner Pass

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The final push! Our last day was a long one, so we got up at 5am and started hiking at 6am (!). We were treated to an awesome sunrise as we climbed up toward Tinker Knob.

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We stopped and had breakfast where the Cold Spring Trail comes up from Truckee and joins the PCT. With the sunrise, the gorgeous weather, and the heaven-sent gift that is Quaker Oats Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal, this was one of the great breakfasts of my life.

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For over six days we hiked toward Tinker Knob, and then we were there. Hello, Knob!

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This picture makes me so happy—little Quinny just running his heart out against a beautiful view.

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The scenery beyond Tinker Knob was just amazing, with the trail running right along the ridge to Anderson Peak. Fantastic!

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These very good boys hiked seven days and 80+ miles carrying (most of) their own kibble. I’m so proud!

 

A scramble up Alpine Walk Peak

I’m a pretty inside-the-box thinker. Once I find something I like or get used to something, it’s easy for me to see that thing as fixed—this is the time we get up, these are the 10 things we cook for dinner, this is the day I talk to my parents, this is the loop we hike. As a result, I’ve hiked and run the same loop in Galena probably 50 times at this point. Sometimes I run it backward! But always the same loop, because…well, that’s the loop.

But if my inside-the-box thinking is a negative, a corresponding positive is that if someone¬†else wants to think outside the box, I’m game. So when Morgan suggested we break the Galena mold and tack an off-trail scramble up Alpine Walk Peak onto the regular loop, I was all about it. So we did!

We started off on regular ol’ Thomas Creek Trail. Familiar stuff. We made it to the bridge and kept going into less familiar territory until we were four miles up.

 

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On the bridge across Thomas Creek. If there is a photo that better captures Banner and Quinn’s relationship, I haven’t seen it. Stoic, beautiful B poses while his mental patient brother ruins the shot.

From there, we went rogue and left the trail in pursuit of the peak. A nice thing about Galena is that its ridges are well-defined, so it was hard to go too far wrong: if we stayed on or below the ridge to our right and just kept climbing, we’d get to the peak (funny how peaks work).

That’s not to say it was easy. It was a pretty damn steep climb and I am here to report that off-trail travel is way more tiring than on-trail, even in our relatively open east-side landscapes. Even though I signed up for this and had access to the topo maps, I still dipped into some mental lows on this climb and found myself 1) questioning why we do such stupid stuff for “fun”, 2) hating Morgan, and 3) dreaming of living in Paris or London or New York and jogging through civilized streets filled with gorgeous urban architecture for my morning exercise instead of doing this. I may even have expressed some of this annoyance out loud, who knows?

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Morgan taking in the view from one of the many false summits on this scramble.

But eventually, as always, we dispatched with all the false summits and scrambled through one last thicket of mountain mahogany and there we were at the peak. Or, what may have been the peak—it’s possible that the nub just south of us was 6″ higher. Who cares.

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This is now my favorite photo of all time. The things we make the dogs do! I swear they were loving it.

There was a big chunk of weather sitting in the valley just west of us, and it spilled over onto the peak and the east-facing slope so we got rained on and even snowed on a bit as we climbed. The peak was insanely windy and cold. It felt like we hiked up to the stormy weather, gave it a little tap, and then retreated to the sunshine.

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I groused on the way up, but as usual, the climb was worth it. A whole new view of Galena! 

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We’re about 2,000′ higher here than I usually am at the top of my normal loop. Totally worth the effort.

On the way back down, we overlanded to a little lakelet we’d seen while we were climbing up. We weren’t sure if we’d find it since it wasn’t on our map and we only had a vague notion of where it was, but as usual, Morgan’s navigating and intuition brought us to the right spot. Sometimes I worry that I offload so much of the wayfinding to Morgan that I’d be completely useless on my own, and that’s probably true. But on this hike I was happy to just be a follower and enjoy my partner’s skills.

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We realized this was the first time we’d seen Q swim! He’s waded through rivers with us before, but he’s never been in still water just paddling. I can’t believe this is the first time in his life that he’s done this, but he was definitely tentative at first and then increasingly delighted as he got the hang of it. He came back to shore and then went out for a second lap by himself for the sheer pleasure.

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As usual, even though we had just dragged him on a 7-mile hike with 3,000′ of climbing, Banner found an extra reserve of energy when faced with a body of water and a pinecone. He taught Quinn the simple joy of chasing a chucked cone into the water and then shaking your filthy self off right next to your human.

We were originally planning to overland all the way to Dry Pond and then make our way back on the trails, but when we got a good vantage we realized that this would be more like a 15-mile day, which we weren’t prepared for. Instead, we slipped and slid down to the Whites Creek bridge and walked back down the trail to the road and the car. The trail felt like a paved highway! Another reminder of one of my favorite truths: comfort is relative, and the direction your comfort is moving matters way more than some empirical comfort measure. This is why it’s great to make yourself uncomfortable: so you can enjoy moving back toward comfort.

All told, we hiked about 11 miles, four off-trail, and climbed about 3,100′. I’m not sure I’d do this exact hike again, but it was refreshing to see my backyard trails from a new perspective. We’re thinking we might make this The Summer of Greater Galena: there’s so much territory back behind the well-trodden trails, and this weird summer of no travel and suspended plans feels like a good time to get out and explore it.

 

Writing, reading, stressing, bingoing

I’ve been reading Lisa Watts’s blog, Minding the Miles, recently, and I realized it’s exactly the kind of thing I want to read and write. I don’t want to read things that have been SEO’d to hell or that contain affiliate links or are trying to fit into a preconceived arc. I want to read about what other people are experiencing, how they’re thinking about the ups and downs of life, and how their thoughts are changing as their circumstances do. I want to read thoughtful writing that’s just there to be shared. And that’s what I want to write. So many times, I’ve had the itch to write a blog post but I’ve stopped myself because I don’t have anything to say or¬†more accurately, I don’t have anything worth saying. That word worth sneaks in innocently enough, but it really mucks things up. Worth conveys value, and it’s too easy to turn that into dollars and cents and other countable metrics, like page views and clicks and comments. But what about the intangible value of just sharing an experience? I read the entirety of Lisa’s blog over a year ago, and it had a real impact on me: it made me feel excited and optimistic, and in many ways less alone. But I just left my first comment last week. She wrote thousands of words and dozens of posts without realizing that they were subtly changing the life of a 33-year-old stranger from across the country (and, I’m sure, many other strangers’ lives as well). I’m glad she kept writing thoughtfully and sharing her life, no matter what the comments and clicks told her.

So what has life been like here, recently? Well, as it so often is, it’s been a little rough with a lot of good mixed in. I had some pretty aggressive mental health struggles last year that have popped back up in the last couple weeks, and it’s scary and sad to have to acknowledge that what I thought was a rough patch in the rearview mirror may actually be something I need to learn to deal with longer-term. And it hardly bears mentioning that dealing with anxiety and self-doubt and fear is about a thousand times more difficult in the midst of a pandemic that’s operating on an extremely uncertain timeline (ok, maybe not a thousand times more difficult; I’d say it’s realistically 4-6 times more difficult). But even in the middle of this tough experience, I’m enjoying spending time at home with the dogs, really appreciating the effort we’ve put into our front yard, and enjoying the consistency of running (almost) every day in Reno.

Running bingo continues to keep me on the straight and narrow. We’re now on the third board. Beyond forcing me to get a decent amount of exercise each day, the squares are making me mix things up and stay out of the rut I was sure to fall into with no races to train for and no travel running to be done. Here are a few favorite recent squares:

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Run somewhere meaningful: Of course, I picked The Hub, since this is where I started running with the RRC track group last year and where I’ve enjoyed so many post-run coffees and chats. I can’t wait to get back to this.¬†

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See three types of birds on your run: I am the world’s worst bird spotter, so even though this was a six-mile run through the forest at dawn, I only saw two damned birds the whole time. I saved the square by making my own bird back at camp.

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Run by a library: I MISS YOU LIBRARY! 

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Run in your favorite scenery: We spent the night in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, so I packed some running sandals and did a three-mile trail run with the dogs just as the sun started to come up. What an experience! In the midst of all this craziness, it helped me to slow down at this spot and remember that I am lucky enough to get to take in scenery like this with my boys.

 

Running lately

I didn’t have any firm plans for how to structure my running after the L.A. Marathon on March 8, and the total wackiness of these coronavirus times made my running plans even more murky. When races will be back on the calendar is anyone’s guess, and the weekly track workouts and occasional social runs that used to anchor my schedule are also off the table. So I was super grateful when one of my track friends put together a bingo board for members of our running group.* When we blasted through the first board, another group member cooked up board #2.

Running bingo creates the perfect amount of structure. Because of my upholder, completist, competitive-but-only-for-things-that-don’t-matter nature, I’m super motivated to check off every square and to do it as quickly as possible. This means I’m running every day, and every run has a purpose. But most of the squares have room for interpretation, so I can run how I like and get creative with how I check them off. Thanks to bingo, I’ve run in new places, appreciated some familiar routes in new ways, paid a ton of attention to my surroundings, and just generally felt excited and happy about running in a time when it would normally have been a slog.

I’m trying (not always successfully) to capture each square with a photo. Here’s a smattering from the last month-ish:

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Run with an animal: This one was easy because I can’t shake these damn animals no matter how hard I try.

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Run twice in one day: This gorgeous sunrise run with Q ended in an epic bloodbath of a fall, but I still got out for the second run! #thanksbingo

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Run somewhere new: This brought Mo and me to Total Recall off Hoge Road, which has become our new favorite spot. Especially nice since it’s still possible to social distance here.

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Run a route you’ve done five times: How about five billion times? I’ve climbed Hunter Lake to Webster more times than there are atoms in the universe, so it was nice to take a break at the top and appreciate the view with my new running sidekick.

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Run a long uphill: Inspired by Chelsea (creator of the first bingo board), I climbed Skyline all the way from the golf course to McCarran. I was dreading it, but this turned out to be the best run EVER! Sometimes it all just inexplicably comes together.

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Do 10 pushups before and after a run: I get by with a little help from my friends.

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Take a selfie with a mural or sculpture: I love these whales, and I was happy for the excuse to pay them a visit.

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Run without looking at your watch: I didn’t trust myself so I took the option to cheat off the table. It was really lovely to just cruise along with Mo on this run and not give a single damn about pace or distance.

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Run up Rattlesnake Mountain: Did you know Reno has a Rattlesnake Mountain? Did you know it’s ridiculous?

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Run over a bridge: I was going to snake along the bridges over the Truckee, but then I remembered my favorite route in Galena is lousy with bridges, so I made a little morning of it. This was one of those runs that makes me feel like I’ve made at least a few good choices in life.

 

*She actually put it together for Reno’s chapter of the Mikkeller Run Club, which I was barely a part of, but there’s nothing like an isolating pandemic to make you firmly claim membership in any group that will have you. Looking forward to running regularly with MRC when group runs are back on the table!