Next stop, the mountains!
Around 4pm on Friday after work (and school), Elan and I hit the road for Mammoth Lakes, California. We packed the car earlier that morning so as to try and avoid the inevitable traffic we anticipated running into on the 120-E. Snacks in hand, sneakers in the trunk, we were sure the weekend was to be filled with many mountain miles, chilly temps, and beautiful fall colors.
Admittedly, I’m not the best at road trips. Suffering from what feels like impenetrable sciatica, I need to get up and walk around pretty much every hour or my glutes and hips lock up and feel like they’re on fire. Which is why Elan does most of the driving (bless his soul).
I’m also not the best at road trips because I mindlessly snack like it’s my job. So a good way to combat this pesky habit is to make sure you have enough yummy treats on hand. This way, because you know you’re going to eat all of what you packed, you won’t feel so bogged down by the time you get to your destination. My favorite? Baby carrots and sea-salt popcorn.
My roommate Rebecca said it best, “every couple of weeks (or months) the best way to recharge is to have a little mountain time.” And I absolutely couldn’t agree more. Ditching the idea of splits and Strava segments, just going out to enjoy the adventure a mountain range provides is about as refreshing as a dip in the pool on a hot summer’s day.
Lucky for us, a good friend of ours lives in Mammoth and served as our personal tour guide. But how do you go out and adventure if you’re not as lucky to have a native accompany you on the trail? Use Strava or the AllTrails app to map out a route. Both platforms allow you to download the routes offline so you can access them when you’re out in the mountains. From there you can either upload them to your watch or phone and it serves as easy navigation for an epic day.
Don’t be afraid to do a little research before you go. Taking the time to plan out a route can be incredibly rewarding and definitely worth the time. I would also always caution you to bring extra water, nutrition and a safety blanket in your pack when running in a new place (and especially at altitude). It’s never a good idea to err on the side of less, it’s worth the weight and can prove to be life saving should something go wrong.
Expect the Unexpected.
Running at altitude is no joke. The first few miles (albeit being gradually uphill) left my throat burning and with the slightest sensation of blood in the back of my mouth. It’s hard. For someone who lives at sea level, my best advice would be to take it slow. Give yourself a little extra time to hike up the hills, and try not to focus on pace too much. Your body is working overtime and with less oxygen, enjoy the 12-minute mile for the views, not the PR’s.
Our route for the day was a jaw dropping, beautiful 14 mile loop, peaking at nearly 12,000 ft of elevation. It was stunning, thin, and saturated with the most gorgeous views of the mountains. Just on the cusp of fall, the leaves were changing from green to yellow, and frost was sticking to the trees like glitter from an art project.
The views in The Bay Area are beautiful, of course. But the majesty of these mountains and lakes was truly something else. Being up on the ridge lines, overlooking the trails, rivers and lakes from above, made me that much more appreciative of how capable my body is.
How rad is it that on (almost) any given weekend, we can use our bodies to propel ourselves to such enormous heights? It’s wacky if you think about it. It makes running a race pale in comparison to the fulfillment of a great day’s adventure.
About four miles from the end of our traverse, my poor Elan took a gnarly spill. Landing directly on his wrist, I knew something was terribly wrong when he didn’t get up right away. Elan is sort of what I think of as a boulder. He’s steady, rooted, and it takes a hell of a lot to break him. Which is why when he finally got up and his wrist was pretty much dangling I knew he was in deep sh*t.
Being the ever so supportive girlfriend that I am, I quickly backed away and shielded my eyes behind our buddy, feeling a flood of nausea rise up through my tummy. To think I wanted to be a nurse in high school is comical.
With enough adrenaline to power a small village, we made it back to the car (in one semi-full piece) and headed straight for the ER.
Coolhaus and a Long Wait.
Showered, fed, and cleaned up from the morning’s adventure, we decided that it was indeed a good idea to head to the ER. Just to make sure nothing was broken. Cue the irony.
After what seemed like an eternity in the patient holding room, the doctor finally came back from imaging to confirm that Elan had indeed broken the 4th and 5th metacarpal in his wrist. The fracture, he said, would undoubtly need surgery to fix. In a state of disbelief, Elan nodded his head and immediately I could feel the disappointment welling up inside him.
Being a few days removed from the incident, it breaks my heart to hear him admit all of what was streaming through his head at the time. And I think in a lot of respects, it’s what a lot of athletes struggle with when something unexpected happens.
If I had been more fit, I wouldn’t have fallen.
I should have been more consistent with my running during the week.
I ruined the weekend for you.
I’m going to be so out of shape.
Breaking a bone is nothing but horrible luck. And what we found helped remedy the pain was friends who show up with CoolHaus ice cream sandwiches, and the idea that as terrible as it feels in the moment, things happen for a reason.
After four, long, arduous hours in the ER, Elan was given the all clear to go home. But we parted with some nasty advice…surgery was inevitable.
With a pounding headache from both anxiety and altitude, we made a quick stop at Starbucks to flood my veins with (delicious dark roast) coffee. The much more glorious and bougie coffee shop in town is Black Velvet, where the hipsters and men with high buns perch religiously.
A point of contention in our relationship is the situation of dark versus light roast joe. We’ll just let sleeping dogs lay on this one. None the less, both mornings in Mammoth required we go to both, because a morning is not complete with a warm cup of which ever coffee makes the cogs churn.
So the following morning, with coffee in hand, and chocolate muffins in our bellies, we woke up early to see the clouds move over the mountains.
Mammoth, you’re a stunner. Even with chilly temps and frosty noses.
The last dance!
The last day was bittersweet. Though we anticipated a run through Yosemite, because of our sidelined boy, Keith (our buddy and personal tour guide) took me out for a romp through the valley to enjoy just a bit more of the beauty Mammoth has to offer.
I tell the athletes I coach this one thing, over and over again. The difference between being a good athlete and a great one learning to truly enjoy the ebbs and flows that training inevitably creates.
When you peak in your fitness when training for a specific race, it feels amazing! You can bust out five hour long runs, or sub seven minute pace workouts, no problem. But physiologically, your body can’t maintain that level of stress all the time. That’s why you train in cycles, and being able to peak at the right time is an art. The downside, is the comedown. Suddenly a ten mile run seems daunting when before it was no big deal.
So running in Mammoth, at altitude, not in peak shape, was a challenge. But that’s what distinguishes good athletes from great ones; it’s about enjoying what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, for the sheer fact that movement is beautiful.
Seven miles, heavy lungs and a happy heart later, we went back home to find poor Elan snuggled on the couch catching up on missed episode of Suits. To be frank, I have absolutely no idea what he sees in that show.
Our last meal in Mammoth was at an all natural cafe called, “Food Cache.” Elan made a stark observation that nothing annoys him more than seeing four people behind the counter, twiddling their thumbs, no one else in the cafe and still your food takes twenty minutes. His coffee shop is busy around the clock, your food never takes more than five minutes to prepare, it’s delicious and the coffee is strong.
But aside from the wait, it was really nourishing and exactly what are sped up metabolisms needed.
I got the “Avocado bowl,” it was sauteed kale, a whole bunch of steamed veggies, roasted beets, grilled feta and an entire avocado. Elan got a burger and fries, because when you have a broken wrist, sometimes nothing feels better than home cut fries and ketchup.
Enjoy the unexpected.
Our trip to Mammoth was nothing what we expected it to be. And there is a certain serenity to that. No matter how much you want a vacation, trip or even race to be perfect, sometimes life has other plans. As much as it’s difficult to accept the terms, it’s important to learn how to roll with the punches.
It’s no use in focusing on all the things we weren’t able to do. Our weekend was great because we got to spend time with people who inspire us and share in the importance of being active and outside.
Elan and I made memories we sure as hell won’t forget, and for the next three months we’ll be reliving all of our adventures via his hard cast.