Finding my limit on Black Mountain

In May my wife was in Vegas and spent a morning hiking up the trail to the peak of Black Mountain. She had an amazing time, and the view from 5000 feet was tremendous. Now that we’re in Vegas together, she wanted to have me share the experience with her. We decided to make this our Thursday morning excursion, and shortly after dawn we arrived at the trailhead.

IMG_2061.jpgThe entire trail is up the side of the mountain, and it slowly rises up with a gentle grade for 3.5 miles. However, the final .6 miles are completely different terrain from the bottom portion, and this is where things started to go off the rails. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself however. The first portion of the trail was a lot of fun. It was slow going, rising up from 3000 feet with a mostly clear path. It is very impressive to see how well maintained a trail can be in the desert.

This all changes when you get to around 4300 feet. At this point the trail turns very rocky, and it changes from smooth trail to bouldering. Our steady pace up the mountain slowed to a crawl as we carefully maneuvered up rock ledges along a ridge line. Once we got to around 4600 feet I had to stop and take a break. My stomach started to turn on me, most likely affected by the higher altitude (most of my runs in Minnesota are around 800-1000 feet above sea level). I stopped to eat a little something, and it was as I was sitting there that the vertigo slapped me in the face.

LRG_DSC05709.jpgI’ve never been a heights person, and I tend to get vertigo when I’m in tall buildings. I’m usually OK when it comes to being on big hills, but I need solid ground under my feet, and a feeling of stability to handle tall hills and mountains. As we approached the summit, the elevation grade jumped to around 35%. The average before this had been a nice 10-15% grade, meaning that we were now heading straight up.

As I sat on a rock at 4600 feet I couldn’t even bring myself to lift my head up and look around. I felt like everything was going to start spinning, and my anxiety started spiking through the roof. Climbing such a steep grade, at such height, along a ridge, had beaten. me. I apologized to my wife and said that I had to stop. I simply couldn’t go any further. Even sitting here typing the story puts me back in the situation, and no amount of bravado could have changed the fact that I simply couldn’t go on.

IMG_2063.jpgI was .2 miles from the top, but that required 400 feet of vertical travel. For now, I’d have to be happy with 4600 feet. We started the descent back down, and for a bit it was a bit precarious. Many of the rocks we had climbed up were large, and required you to sit down to get over them. Soon enough though we were back to the regular trail, and since it was a nice downhill, we managed to run a fair bit of the return trip. We made it back to the car with a decent accomplishment, but with myself feeling very frustrated.

Something that always frustrates me is when I come face to face with my limits. I hate being told (often by my body) that I can’t do something I want to do. When that thing is because I’m not strong enough, or don’t have enough stamina, that’s one thing. When it’s due to my mind, and my inability to have complete control over what I think and feel, it’s even more frustrating. I realize that today’s failure is very minor in the grand scheme of things. We managed to complete 92% of the distance that we set out to do, and 80% of the elevation. That’s not terrible, but it still makes me feel slightly inadequate.

LRG_DSC05719.jpgHowever, it is good to know what your limits are. The only way to truly know what your limits are is by getting out there and seeing what you’re made of. We may not like our limits, but we all have them. Thursday, I found mine, and I know had knowledge of myself that I didn’t have before. I was also able to quantify what exactly it was that affected me, and so I can look at some possible alternatives in the future. There’s another mountain in this park that appears to have a much easier and more groomed grade than Black Mountain, so perhaps that will be a goal for another time as well.

For now, I’ll take the good and the bad feelings and acknowledge that they are what they are, and that I can’t change them. Friday, I’ll get up and go for a nice regular run to regroup and give myself a nice success. Then it’s back to seeing where my limits are and start to figure out if there’s any way I can change them.


Haze over Vegas

I’ve got some stories to share from our trip out west, and in particular a story about trying to climb Black Mountain. I’ll save that one for tomorrow, but for now I wanted to share a shot of the wild haze over the mountains near Vegas.

The eerie glow makes it feel like an alien world. I specifically took the shot high so that the land was just barely framing the bottom of the shot. It’s a beautiful night in Vegas tonight.

Anxiety can suck it

Later today I will be boarding a plane and heading west to visit family on our annual winter trip to the desert (don’t worry the house is being house-sat and not vacant). It’s almost always a nice relaxing time, with explorations of an ecosystem that is totally foreign to me. However, because I’m flying it also means I get my special bonus. Anxiety.

As someone who deals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, things like flying are absolutely brutal for me. The biggest issue is that it starts days ahead of time. My worst anxiety is often 2-3 days before a flight. All of my symptoms will explode and I’ll spend a good solid day feeling miserable, tense, and suffering. There’s little that I can do about the symptoms, except acknowledge that they exist and that they don’t control me. I know that I’m not dying, and that everything I’m feeling is just my body being unreasonable.

Because it doesn’t happen very often, taking any type of regular medication is pointless. I do have some pills for situations where it gets really bad, but I obviously need to treat those with care, as they’ll make it hard for me to drive and function. So I often will try and just relax with a beer and wait for the tension to, eventually, release. What is even dumber is that my anxiety on the day of the flight is often less than 2-3 days before. That anticipation episode is often the worst of it. I just need to get through it, and get to my destination, and everything ends up being good.

So for all of you that suffer from GAD, know that you’re not alone. Remember your body is dumb sometimes, and that no matter what you’re feeling, it’ll be OK. I’m sure there’s plenty of folks out there reading this who will join me in raising a glass and declaring that anxiety can suck it!

Testing the sled harness

On Sunday the temps rose in to the mid teens, and I was feeling antsy, so it was a perfect time to pull out my new sled harness and give it a go at Elm Creek. As luck would have it there was a beautiful light snowfall all afternoon, and so I added the weight of my camera bag to my sled bag, so that I could take a few pics while I hiked.

The temps were perfect, and I ended up needing to strip off one of the layers I had on top. At about the 5 mile mark I stopped and pulled out my camera and took some shots for the album linked below. It was so calm and peaceful I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I had to get moving again or I’d end up getting quite chilled. I packed back up and hiked back the final two miles.

It ended up being a good workout as well, since as the day went on the snow got deeper and deeper. By the end my sled was pushing a lot of fresh powder and feeling heavier than the 15-20 lbs I had loaded it up with. All in all an amazing day and I’m so happy I had a chance to get out and experience it.


Online debates

I’ve been involved in online discussion forums since 1989. This was back when the way that you had a conversation was through BBS systems. These systems required you to call them up via modem, and then you could post comments, log off, and then call back in a few hours to see if anyone else replied. They were mostly single line systems, meaning that only one person could be viewing the forum at a time. Sometimes debates would get heated, and arguments would go on for weeks, but in general, people took time to think about what they were posting.

With the advent of the internet, online forums moved into lightspeed. People could hit us a discussion site and have long winded conversations over the course of an afternoon, in almost real-time. You no longer had to wait and absorb what people said, but you could respond immediately, from your gut. Despite this, many of these forums were still mostly civil, and people managed to keep things from getting out of hand. I actually met many good friends on a Christian on-line discussion site called We would have tons of debates, but we all knew that this is why we were there, and in most cases we didn’t take it personally.

Then came the advent of social media like Facebook and Twitter. At this point in my life I’m in a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I like Facebook for what it was originally intended to be. A place to share what you were doing, eating, drinking, asking for recommendations on things, or for planning get togethers with friends, etc.,. This is how I mostly use Facebook, as a place to communicate brief things about real world life. Almost everyone that I’m a friend with on Facebook is someone I’ve met in the real world, usually through the running world, and occasionally through beer culture.

Because of this, I avoid debates on Facebook like the plague. I realized a couple years ago that debates on Facebook often lead to anger and hurt in the real world. When I was on Christdot, I was there with the intention of having discussion. I knew that some of them might get intense, but that was the purpose of me being there. On Facebook, it all feels way more personal. I have a very hard time with the idea of getting into a heated debate with someone, at the same time that they’re showing off pictures of their kid doing something cute.

One could argue that this is a good thing. Perhaps that humanizing element makes me think twice about what I post, but that’s simply not the way things work on a site like Facebook that promotes instant gratifications and dopamine hits. Everything about Facebook steers you towards posting quickly and posting often. The entire algorithm of how posts are presented to you is based on how much you’ve interacted with them. A “like” over here, or a quick comment over there, suddenly alters the entire thread of news that you see in your feed. So you end up naturally posting lots of quick things, or clicking like and trying to move on. That changes the nature of trying to have an online debate with someone.

One of the key problems with online debates is that you’re limited by the written word. People have been debating via written word for thousands of years. It’s not a new art form in any way, but it’s not an easy one either. Debating via written word along takes time, thought, planning, and plain hard work. That’s because in a written word discussion, all you have is the words on the page. You miss out on all of the other things that happen in a real-life conversation. Tone of voice, body language, facial expression, and the physical presence of another breathing human, can completely change the way that words are interpreted and delivered.

I’ve had plenty of meatspace conversations that have been powerful and meaningful, yet if those debates had happened in text, they would have taken on a completely different feel. Seeing the emotion in a person’s face changes the way that you present facts. Reacting to a surprised body movement can cause you to alter your vocal tone of your statement. There’s simply thousands of things that we do in a real life interaction that can’t be translated to text on a written page/screen.

That’s not to say that written debates aren’t good. They’re amazing and wonderful exercises that have shaped the course of human history since it’s inception. But in my mind, they have a certain place, and that place is not on sites like Facebook. On sites like Facebook everything is so reactionary and quick that you end up being invited over to someone’s house for a BBQ, and at the same time, in a different thread, being told you’re a “fucking asshole” because of your political views.

Facebook is meant to save us time, and the fact that you can get invited over to someone’s place for an impromptu BBQ is awesome. It takes mere moments to put out a call for people to gather. But it also takes mere moments to react out of emotion, without thinking. The entire notion of memes in online debates is the paragon of this lazy type of discussion. Why spend time typing up a reasoned argument when I can just post a picture with a pithy, inaccurate, and incendiary witty phrase? Pictures are worth a thousand words, but memes are often a waste of 999 of them.

It’s for this reason that I now severely limit what I do on Facebook. I love Facebook for what it does well; gives people a place to connect around life and events. But if you want to have a deep discussion with me, or a robust debate? Then let’s meet somewhere else. There are plenty of online forums like Reddit or topic based sites for that type of discussion. Or even better yet, use Facebook to invite me out for a beer, and let’s hash it out in person. Human to human, in real life with real emotions and real empathy.