Finishing the June Grid

June was another big month with nineteen peaks to climb, and it was off to a good start — until the outer edge of my left foot starting hurting during a speed workout at the track.  Taking a week off was demoralizing, and not just because I love to run fast, but also because a serious enough injury (for example, a stress fracture) would threaten the June Grid, the July Grid, and travel plans for August — or in other words, wreak havoc on my summer.

The X-ray came back negative (no stress fracture),  instead this was just another unhappy tendon, specifically the peroneal brevis where it attaches to the base of the fifth metatarsal.  My sports doc, who’s also in his 50s, gave me a rueful look, commenting that tendinopathies are common with older athletes.  Rest, ice, maybe some ibuprofen — focus on strengthening the kinetic chain and maintaining proper alignment — but no magic answers.

The week off was frustrating, and it raised the stakes on finishing the remaining peaks in the June Grid by the end of the month.  But by backing off for a few days and then returning to the mountains cautiously, I was able to finish the nineteen peaks and come back with some new discoveries and experiences, which after all is the purpose of this project . . .

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Finishing the June Grid

Winter Still Reigns

The forecast kept me out of the mountains, I just didn’t have the heart to face freezing rain.  Where was Spring?

The next day dawned sunny, if not warm, so it was into the car and off to the north, time to get back to work on the Grid.  Along the way I noticed the sky was clear overhead, but cloudy along the horizon — upon reflection, it seemed this must always be the case, because when you look at a low angle, you see the mass of all those clouds and not the gaps between them.

Good spirits lasted for a little while until when cresting a rise on the highway, suddenly there were the Catskills right in front, with Plateau Mountain in particular stretching out as if with open arms to welcome, embrace, and crush me to pieces against its frosty white chest.  White not being the color of clear slopes and clean trails, like I’d been hoping for, but hardly a surprise, either, since the mountains create their own weather.

Pulling into the trailhead now, the valley socked in with a high cloud layer and snow dappling the ground…

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Winter Still Reigns

Payback Time

The Grid has turned into The Grind.  Last year I was busy with a high-pressure job, and every Catskills weekend was a chance to escape the office and leave behind the rigors of the corporate world.  What I recall most about last year’s mountain adventures is exhilaration and joy.  Now I’m between jobs and have all the time in the world.  But hiking in the mountains is morphing into work.

This is partly because of the commitment I’ve made to completing the Grid’s remaining ~100 peaks in 2018, rather than letting even a handful slip to next year.  The commitment is questionable, perhaps it’s insane, maybe I just haven’t freed myself of the sense of urgency and focus on results learned over a career in finance and before that the military.  In this regard, I am my own worst enemy.

The winter is also my enemy.  Someone inquired, if I was going to take some time off from the corporate world, why not do so during the summer, instead of the winter?  (The timing of these things is often outside ones control.)

True, the Mountains served up a gift in February, with the last few days of the month featuring beautiful warm temperatures, as high as 60 F, enough to melt most of the snow and let me scamper unhindered across the ridges.  But now it’s payback time:  March opened with two serious nor’easters, three to four feet of accumulated snow, and a return to freezing temperatures.

Half-way through the month, I’ve endured some of the toughest and most miserable hikes of my Catskills career, and while I’ve completed seven peaks so far, there are nine left to go.

And as I write this post, it’s snowing yet again….

But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you ambush yourself in caverns and forests.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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Payback Time

August in the Catskills

I’ve been reading a very good biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that’s been encouraging me to think about and try to articulate why I seek to spend so much time on the trails:

  • As modern society is becoming more and more digital, I want to stay physically active, as it seems to me mind and body completely are intertwined, so one can’t be healthy and happy without the other
  • As the world is becoming more and more artificial, I want to spend time in nature, which seems like the real source of joy and exhilaration, of which media and other content are but faint imitations
  • As people are becoming more and more interconnected, I want to cultivate an attitude of self-reliance, not meaning that I shun relationships, but rather how can you interact meaningfully with others if you can’t stand on your own two feet

Which brings me back to the Grid, which is the goal of climbing all 35 of the Catskills’ high peaks in every calendar month.  Heading into August, I was in pretty good shape, with 27 done and only 8 left to go, thanks in large part to my August 2016 attempt to thru-hike the entire 35.

Here are some notes from a recent hike where I completed 6 of the remaining 8 together with my friend Alan D.

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August in the Catskills

May in the Catskills

The mission was to complete the remaining twelve peaks needed to scratch the month of May off the Grid, and accordingly I arranged to take a week off of work.  But the Rock The Ridge 50-miler left me with a sore ankle, which required a reduction in speed and mileage.  In Henry David Thoreau’s essay, “Walking,” he used the word “saunter” to describe the act of sallying forth into the woods, which was for him the adventure and escape of his day, and he likened this daily saunter to the motion of a stream flowing downhill to the ocean:

The saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

— Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

To complete the Grid for May, I’d need to saunter instead of run — and rather than pushing myself, I’d need to “flow” through the mountains, just like a stream, except I’d be going uphill as well as down…

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May in the Catskills

Another Barefoot Adventure in the Catskills

Behind me the sky had colored with the rising sun, while to the front the southern escarpment of the Catskill Mountains was silhouetted in mauve and cerise.

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Odie and I were headed north for a minimalist adventure, the objective to climb three mountains, of which one would be a bushwhack.  The protocol for me would be climbing barefoot and descending in LUNA sandals; Odie is always barefoot.   Emboldened by slow but successful ascents of Peekamoose, Hunter, and Southwest Hunter, I had developed the peculiar ambition to climb all 35 peaks in the Catskills barefoot, and today’s activities would hopefully get me to number 6.

To make this expedition appropriately minimalist, I was carrying a small safety kit, but no food or water.

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Another Barefoot Adventure in the Catskills