Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dreamers and Doers: Stories from Kilimanjaro

Quote from my story in Dreamers and Doers (the photo's me on top of Half Dome after climbing the Regular NW last May).

Some said I was too young. But I think the fact that I was just twelve years old when I went to Tanzania and climbed Kilimanjaro with my dad meant that I still had that fleeting openness to life that comes from having a mind that is not yet fully formed. The scenes and experiences I took in over the course of that trip shaped me in a way that still persists today.

I wrote a bit about what climbing Kilimanjaro meant to me in my story, “Discovering a Certain Grandness of Life,” for Dreamers and Doers. This is a collection of stories, published by the Ladies Trekking Club, by women from across the world whose lives have in some way been shaped by the fact they climbed to the top of Africa; it is an anthology that is edifying, enlightening, and inspiring.

But it’s not actually necessary to travel halfway around the world in order to learn most of the personal lessons that we wrote about. Many of the benefits of travel and adventure can come from simply opening and reading a book. This is the gift this project aims to give to many children who have grown up living in the shadows of Kilimanjaro: every copy of Dreamers and Doers sold provides for a textbook that will be donated to a Tanzanian school.

Take part in these ladies’ adventures and give the gift of education by ordering a copy of Dreamers and Doers here

Me in 2001, trying to keep up with pre-alegbra homework at a camp on Kilimanjaro

Friday, May 3, 2013

How to survive a glacier

I recently got an email from Anna and Christa, 6th graders who are doing a project on the dangers of glaciers, how to survive them, and the kind of equipment that you need. Here's what I said:

Hi Christa and Anna,

You’re both right that mountains and glaciers can be dangerous places and definitely require some knowledge, skills, and gear in order to safely climb and travel across them. I’ll first explain what a glacier is, and then tell you about what makes them dangerous and how to work around these dangers.

My teammate crossing a crevasse on Everest.
A glacier is kind of like a big frozen river. Glaciers form in cold places—at the poles or in the mountains—where more snow falls than melts over the course of a year. This means that over many years the snow builds up and compacts itself into a big block of ice.

Glaciers may seem frozen in place but they actually do move, just at a much slower pace than you or I do, so it would be hard for us to notice unless we sat and watched for months or years. When a glacier forms on a mountain it will flow downhill, like a river. Crevasses, which are gaps in the glacier where the ice has split, form because of disruptions to the glacier’s flow. Crevasses are the biggest danger to be aware of if you want to survive a glacier.

Crevasses form when different parts of the glacier move at different speeds, causing it to break. Sometime the top and bottom move at different speeds because the bottom is slowed down from friction against the ground, whereas the top is not. The same idea behind why you would be able to quickly glide across a frozen lake, but not a rocky path.

Roped up for glacial travel on Mt Vinson. Left to right: me, Doug, Victor.

Most of the time we try to go around them, or over them on sturdy snow bridges, but crevasses are dangerous to mountaineers because it’s possible to fall in them—and it’s hard to get yourself or your teammate back out unless you’ve come prepared. Mountaineers typically travel across glaciers in a group all roped up together. That way if one person falls in, the rest of the team can anchor themselves into the ice to catch the fallen person on the rope. Once the team has built a solid anchor, the person in the crevasse can use what are called prusik knots to climb up the rope and out of the crevasse.

So here are some of the supplies that you would need:
            --A rope
            --A harness, which you wear to attach yourself to the rope
--An ice-ax and crampons—sharps points that would help anchor yourself into the ice and catch your teammate in case he falls in a crevasse
--Ice screws and pickets to build an anchor in the ice to take the fallen persons weight
--Cord to tie prussic knots to use to climb the rope up out of a crevasse in case you fall in
I hope that helps, good luck with your speech!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Clarification on Boston update

I realized some of the time references in my post below may have been confusing, so thought I’d clarify.

I crossed the finish line at 2:22pm real time, and have a text from my sister from 2:40pm that I got as we were leaving the finish line area. The explosions went off at 2:51.

My race time was 3:57, but that was by a different clock than the one that reads 4:09 in all the videos and photos. There are so many runners that they stagger their starts in three different waves. Basically, the first wave was for the elite runners, second wave was for normal runners who had entered with a fast enough qualifying time (the wave my dad and I were in), and third wave was for runners who had entered by raising money for charity.

Which also means that most of the runners who were crossing the finish line when the explosions went off were running for a cause, and the spectators in the stands were the ones there to support them. The fact that most of those injured were spectators who were probably there cheering on friends and family who were running for charity, for which this was a once in a lifetime event, somehow seems particularly cruel. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon update

My dad and me at the finish line

First off, thanks to everyone for all of the calls, texts, emails, tweets, comments and likes I got today—it felt so good to have so much love and support come through. I just made it safely back to DC; my dad, step-mom, little bro & sis are en route to CA; older brother & his wife back at their place just outside Boston. It’s been a crazy, enormously sad day. 

The race itself was beautiful—so exciting and encouraging to have the huge crowds cheering you on from the sides. I felt great up to about mile 22, after which I started to hit the dreaded wall. My thighs and calves seized up into awful cramps, topped off with a worry that I was starting to feel pain again where I had previously stress-fractured my foot (which was why I couldn’t run Boston last year, for those who know of that saga). I broke down and started to walk. But with all the people shouting at me that I was “almost there,” my pride kicked in—I felt like I should break 4 hours—and I made myself run the last mile, through tears and all. I crossed the finish line clocking in at 3:57—and about half an hour before the bombs went off. 

My dad was just past the finish line waiting for me. We took some photos, got our medals and heat blankets, and wove through the crowd of tired runners to the exit—all of which took us about 15 minutes. 

Once we had gotten out and made some progress slowly walking to where we were supposed to meet up with our family I called my little sister to check in with her. Her voice sounded totally panicked in a way I haven’t quite heard anyone sound before. She said that there was a bomb scare and everyone was running around, but they were ok. It was so surreal and I was so confused (and probably kind of delirious). I didn’t know how seriously to take what she was saying, and at that point couldn’t get her to tell me very much else. 

Then I started to get calls and texts from others and pieced it together. My dad and I managed to meet up with the rest of our family for a weird “celebratory” meal. The restaurant was full of other runners and spectators and no one really seemed to know what to do or say. 

As I've heard and thought about it more, it has felt shocking how close my dad and I were to having a very different ending to the race. It was so hard to get myself to run those last 3 or 4 miles; I can’t help but wonder where we would’ve been had I not. 

I of course feel very lucky that everyone I was there with is okay right now, but of course also feel so sad for those, and the friends and families of those, who are not. The Boston marathon is such an inspiring, iconic event that so many people work so hard to make happen and participate in. It is totally beyond me how someone could think of it and all that it represents as a target. 

Let's all continue to send good thoughts toward Boston. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Running DC

After not being able to run it last year (thanks to getting a little overzealous about minimalist shoes and ending up with a stress fracture), I'm getting ready for the Boston marathon coming up next weekend.

It has felt like a long process getting back in the game. But, first and foremost I don't want to re-injure myself, so I've tried to stay patient as I've build the mileages back up. Of course it feels good to push yourself to do your best, but what I most love about running is the simplicity of it--right now I'm trying not to bog that down with forming any sort of personal expectations. I do it for that sense of lightness that running gives me when I step out the door with nothing but what I need to keep moving along for the next couple of hours. For the sense of freedom that comes with not having do anything but put one foot in front of the other.  

U.S. Capitol 

I also love using running as a tool to explore, and my long runs have been a great way to get to know DC. Most of my runs start at the Capitol, which is quite close to where I live. From there I have a bunch of different options for some monumental jogs. 

MLK Memorial
Sometimes I like to make my way over to the Martin Luther King Memorial--from there I can run around the tidal basin to the FDR  and then Thomas Jefferson memorials. Then I can continue along for a loop around Ohio Drive. 

The Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument from across the Potomac

Or I'll often go down the National Mall, past the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, and take the Memorial bridge across the Potomac into Virginia. From there I can hang either a left to Teddy Roosevelt island for a good 13 miler, or a right if I'm looking to run longer. 

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial 

I think Teddy Roosevelt's is my favorite of the monuments. I love running through the trees around the island and then suddenly (it somehow always sort of catches me by surprise) coming upon the grand statue in the middle. 

Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial
But for my really long runs, George Washington Memorial Parkway continues on and on along the river. My training runs peaked at 20 miles, which brought me past Lady Bird Johnson Park, Ronald Reagon National Airport and on into Alexandria, VA. As I turn around and make my way back I can use the Washington Monument as a reference point of just how far I've gone (and how far left I have to go). 

My training got thrown off a bit because I was traveling the last two weeks of March and not able to run. I had done 20 miles right before I left, which felt great, but then a final 16 mile run last weekend got me a little worried at the thought having to put 10 more on top of that so soon. I figure I probably won't beat the time I used to qualify for Boston (from the Big Sur Marathon), or even come close to it. But I've decided not to worry about speed, I'll be happy just to be there and enjoy the race.