Saturday, November 29, 2014

Missoula Living

This weekend marks the end of three months since Sara and I moved into our place in Missoula. Three months, but it feels more like a hectic two weeks. Looking back it seems we have fit a lot in that time.

We got settled into the house rather quickly with help from Sara's parents. Sara put in a bunch of work to get all the boxes unpacked and everything put away within two days. I don't know how she did it, but I came home from work to a home instead of the expected tornado alley.

Right after moving in we got hit with a huge car repair that sidelined us for a week while it was in the shop. The little bit of smoke we smelled driving back to Flagstaff from Glacier, then to LA, then to Missoula, was apparently a big deal that needed a ton of money to fix. Fortunately, us driving it around didn't make it worse, it just smelled bad and now we have a healthy, happy car.

Meanwhile, Sara decided she wanted to do the Montana Hell Ride, a 126 mile ride/race with 8200' of climbing. The Cycling House, where I work, put on the ride so I was going to be there for the weekend anyway. Sara spent a week putting in big miles to get her butt used to the saddle again, since all she had been doing for a few months was walking. Apparently a week is all she needs to train for a huge ride because she did great!

Sara putting in some miles
The day of the ride was quite chilly for mid-September. The start was in the low 50's but drizzling, and the top of the first climb was 41 degrees. By the time Sara got there she was wet and cold, but opted to continue without my jacket (most riders were very cold) and took off on a 17 mile descent. That sustained downhill after sweating and riding through rain understandably froze just about everyone. I was very glad to have a fire to stand next to all-day.

After finding a place next to a car heater for a while, Sara got back on the road and kept pedaling. The course makes a big loop on the East side of Skalkaho Pass before climbing back up and over the mountains. She spent most of that loop by herself, but managed to start catching people again on the last big climb. Apparently spending all day hiking the CDT for a couple months pays off in long bike rides. When other people started faltering, she just kept going.

Sara also applied for a variety of jobs to try and find something before returning to school. We had heard the job situation in Missoula is rough so we weren't expecting much, but she landed two jobs in the first few weeks and has a pending job for the spring. The first job was an in-home provider type job that she tried, but left to pick up more hours at the other. Her main gig right now is working at the coveted Good Food Store, a mere three blocks from home.

Zeno and Sequoia love the snow as much as we do
Yes, GFS is a grocery store, but to Missoulians it's more of a lifestyle. The food is delicious, it's healthy, and it's a great place to hangout. It is a great "for-now" job, and just about everyone we have met has worked there at some point.

Sara also may have an opportunity to work for a rafting company this summer in Missoula. We still don't know for sure if that will come through yet, but it will be a great chance for her to get out on the water on any number of rivers. There is so much water here!

I have been spending my time working, trying to learn bikes, and racing cyclocross. There are a couple big cx series in the area and the Cycling House competes in all of them. You can read more about my racing on my blog.

This was my first experience with cyclocross and as a whole I loved it. It's extremely challenging and painful, but like trail running has nothing to do with time. It's all about competing. Since biking divides races into categories I was able to compete for the win against people of similar abilities. Assuming you can stay upright through sand pits, run up hills quickly, negotiate barriers smoothly, and make sharp turns, there is a strategic aspect that made racing exhilarating. The season is over now, but I'm already excited to get back out there next year.
Sara and Carly enjoying the Stuart Peak descent

Cycling took up a lot of the fall for me, but I still tried to get back to the running a bit. I jumped in a couple races, which mostly reminded me that I need to train more. Sara and I both did the Elk Ramble 15k, which went up and over and up and over Mt. Jumbo, with some of the other Cycling House team, and that was a little more promising. Sara ran well and seemed to enjoy it. Like the Hell Ride she got stronger as the race progressed, which is why she's starting to look for a spring ultra.

If I could have thrown out the first three miles of my race I would have been quite pleased with my day. I let the leaders get away early and couldn't close the gap like I had hoped. The multi-mile descent to the finish was a blast though, and I made up a lot of ground. Next time I know to fight harder earlier since I can rely on downhill speed even if I'm tired.

Last weekend Sara and I went adventuring near the Rattlesnake Wilderness with a couple friends. Our initial goal was to summit Stuart Peak. I had gone up the Lolo peak trail a ways the day before and based on that assumed we'd have maybe 18" on top of Stuart and the snow line would be a couple miles from the top. Turns out the snow was 18" three miles before the top and the snowline was five or six miles down. That much snow forced us to move slower and we weren't quite prepared to be out there for a longer time. We opted to turn back just before we hit the ridge/Wilderness.

A now snow-covered wilderness
The adventure was not a failure though! The snow was still clinging to the trees and quite powdery and we got great views of Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley. We ran down the first few miles because the snow was so deep. If you have never run downhill through feet of snow you are missing out! When the snow is deep enough there is no consequence to falling (unless you hit a tree; don't hit a tree) so you end up running faster and with less control than you normally would. Plus, snow is flying everywhere behind you and it's not expected to be the most graceful thing. So running down the trail completely made our day.

For Thanksgiving Sara and I joined Owen (my boss) and his wife Anya for a trek to dinner. We drove up to the O'Brien Creek trailhead and hiked up and over Black Mountain to Owen's parents for a lovely meal. We started the hike well below snowline on trail, but ended up bushwhacking straight uphill into the snow. The last bit up/first bit down was surprisingly challenging because the snow was just deep enough to cover hundreds of fallen logs (burn area). This pick-up-sticks hillside would have been challenging anyway, but since we couldn't see our feet, or most of the logs we were tripping on, it was slow going. I attempted to do the downhill running thing to see if that would work, but ended up tripping on a log and staring up at the sky. From then on it was hiking.

We are grateful that Owen and Anya let us join them in their annual trek/dinner. It gave us our traditional Thanksgiving outdoor fix, but included a scrumptious meal.

Near the top of Black Mountain
Today we went for a spontaneous drive up to Seeley Lake. Neither of us had been up there before, but may head that way a bit this winter to get in some skate skiing. The biggest spontaneous thing I do is get up early and go for a run, or buy a snickers, so randomly leaving town was a big deal for me. We both just felt the urge to get out though and we had just enough time before Sara had to work to make it happen.

We got up to the lake/community just as it started to snow. The first road I attempted to pull in was a mistake and we barely made it out. A bit of jockeying and pushing the car through the snow and ice helped us get back to the highway, but we made sure our next stop was plowed. We were able to stand on the edge of the lake and watch the snow blow across the surface for a bit before we had to head back to Missoula. It wasn't much of an outing, but it was enough to give us our outdoor fix for the day.

A snowy Seeley Lake
I think most people still laugh at how amazed we are with water. All the rivers and creeks around here make us incredibly excited, since Flagstaff has nothing. When the Clark Fork froze over for a week I stopped on my ride home in dark, four degree weather to watch it buckle and ooze for 10-15 minutes. I'm sure I looked like a nut, but we are appreciating surface water.

Sara and I are working opposite schedules so we aren't able to get out overnight at all. Trying to fit in adventures has been difficult, but we have a lot of options close so it isn't impossible. Both of us are revamping our training for the winter as well so we'll get to play in the snow more often. Sara is training hard for the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon, and I'm focusing on US Snowshoe Nationals this year. Even if we don't get to do everything together outside, we are both getting outside frequently that we get our fix.

It's currently snowing in town again and we're looking forward to many more feet in the mountains this winter.

Wishing you lots of snow,

Forrest and Sara

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