Road trippin’: On finding freedom, insight and meaning behind the wheel

Any good road trip is going to have cool places to see. Good company is a huge bonus.

Any good road trip is going to have cool places to see. Good company is a huge bonus.

Adventure is sometimes what you make it. There are a few constants. For instance, the reality that your situation can become dynamic, or that the decisions you make might end up costing you more than you’d like.

But often, it’s also a state of mind. I won’t go so far to include mundane acts of fun as being “adventures” (“Me and the kids had quite an adventure at the park today! We saw a rabbit!”). Sure, there will be some who say true adventure is almost dead today. Much of what could be explored has been already. There are not many peaks left unclimbed, forests unsurveyed and deserts untraversed. With satellite technology, we’ve pretty much quantified all the lands of the earth. So no more hidden worlds to be discovered.

Worse still: Life in the modern, developed world shuns adventure. Our lives are routine, regimented and fenced in. Show me someone whose life is not mostly within this realm and most likely I’ll show you a homeless vagabond.

Face it. We like predictability. Sameness. Societally induced quality control. We all pretty much color inside the lines. Too much variation from our scheduled, hurried lives is unsettling. And yet, life spent inside that manicured, fenced-in slice of stability can be stifling. Why is the film “Office Space” turning into an enduring classic comedy? Because it pokes fun of and comments on the lives most of us live, those soul-crushing, mind-numbing hours every day for five days a week in which we toil to enjoy the same two days off doing the same chores around the house, in the yard or, if we’re feeling ambitious, gathering with friends at a club, movie theater or backyard grill. We could spend decades doing this and never lack for anything and yet still feel like we’ve accomplished nothing.

That’s why middle-aged men buy $20,000 motorcycles and ride in groups to Sturgis. Why 30- and 40-something women join the teenage concert crowd with their gal pals and rock out like it was 1989. It’s why we take up skydiving. Scuba. Ballroom dance. Or whatever it is that stands so far apart from what we do every day that people simultaneously gawk at and envy us for attempting something so outside-the-box from that they normally see or expect us to do. This is what we do when the need to break free becomes too pressing to ignore. It’s the definition of “escape.”

It’s also why the road trip is so quintessentially and perfectly American. Pointing to a place on the map, gassing up the car and saying, “I’m going here. See you in a couple of weeks.” Modern adventure is partly about escape from the world we’re comfortable with. Or maybe escape from a world we’re no longer comfortable with.

I’m not alone in looking back and remembering some of the funniest, or scariest, or most profound experiences of my life have come on long roadies, with or without other people. It’s where I found myself in September of 2010, on a long stretch of Oklahoma Panhandle highway, heading back from the mountains and seeing loved ones with a whole load of burdens on my mind.

But occupying my thoughts at the moment was a specific reality of the trip. Miles from anywhere, I was wondering if this journey at 70 mph was going to turn into a much slower, human-powered trek on foot.

***

September of 2010 was not a happy time for me. Back then, I couldn’t imagine things going a whole lot worse. My personal life was a mess and my career was tanking badly. Embattled as I was, I was taken aback by more bad news that would force me to set much of that aside.

My oldest brother had cancer.

Nothing will make you step back from your own crises than hearing that a loved one may indeed be in the fight of their life. Two months after his diagnosis, I saw a chance to go see him, encourage him and hopefully find some way to help out.

A friend of mine had planned a trip to Colorado’s San Juan Range to do a little hiking and climbing west of Lake City. I had to bail on a previous trip scheduled a month earlier, but this time was a go. We’d head up to Lake City, hike into Matterhorn Creek basin and summit Matterhorn Peak, a 13,000-foot summit exquisitely placed between the hulking mass of Uncompahgre Peak to the east and the craggy spire of Wetterhorn Peak to the west.

A couple of days in the mountains, then a drive northeast to Denver to see my ill but determined brother and his family. I loaded up the car with gear, some clothes for my stay in Denver and a charged iPod for tunes that would keep me alert for the 14 hours of driving that lay ahead. Finally on the highway, a drink was at the ready by the gearshift and food within reach in the passenger seat. I pointed the car west. God, I love going west.

***

We can thank several people for the concept of the American road trip. Henry Ford made cars affordable for working stiffs like you and me. A whole slew of entrepreneurial souls birthed the amalgam of attractions that gave life to the Mother Road, U.S. Route 66. And of course, President Eisenhower endowed the nation with the interstate highway system. Our country is huge, diverse and wide open. You can literally drive for days at highway speeds and not traverse its expanse. Within it are numerous mountain ranges, wide rivers, deep gorges and glimmering cities. Endless miles of open prairie are only outdone by even more endless miles of farmlands that feed the world. America is peopled with energetic go-getters, stodgy  bluebloods, hopeless curmudgeons and weirdos. Every state has a bit of everything. Hippies and rednecks are ubiquitous.

Jump in your car or on your bike and, if given the time, you can see it all, see them all. And if you’re wise, you’ll love it all.

Need proof of the greatness of the concept of the road trip? Tell me that the best part of “Animal House” is not the Delta boys’ roadie in which they land in a club where they clearly did not belong. Faced with the prospect of a huge, angry man standing over you, menacingly “asking,” “may we dance with your dates?” would you not have also ran from the joint in terror but also relived it as one of the pivotal and most awesome moments of your life? Hell yeah you would!

Because it is, in its own special way, a tale of adventure. Not hanging from a rock face 2,000 feet in the air with a swirling blizzard all about, but still out of the ordinary, foreign and risky. One might say exhilarating. Scary. And memorable. A story retold amongst friends who lived it with you, for as many years as you gather, still inducing the imagery, scents and emotions that first hit you when you were living it.

We go on the road to find ourselves. Or lose ourselves. To build a new story that goes beyond what lives inside cubicles or seven-foot privacy fences.

***

Heading up. One of many memories and sights from a recent roadie.

Heading up. One of many memories and sights from a recent roadie.

The night before the climb, I’m not feeling all that amped about it. I’d been reading Aron Ralston’s “Between and Rock and a Hard Place,” and I’m imagining myself high on a peak when some rock comes loose, or some wind gust suddenly appears, blowing me off a ledge and sending me freefalling to my death. In his book, he quotes uber-climber Gerry Roach saying “geologic time is now,” meaning a rock could move at any time, or not for eons. It happened to him, costing him an arm and nearly his life, and the thought is unsettling to me. Mixed in with all the other turmoil going on, I’d really just rather bag it, pick up a fishing pole and idle the day away at some slowly tricking stream.

I scale back my initial plans – there would be no double summit  that day, just Matterhorn – but the day becomes a good one. The weather was perfect. My legs were strong. Me and my buddy were alone on the peak. And no chockstones moved during the short but fun scramble to the summit.

The mountains are a wonderful playground. I’ve had some of my most profound thoughts and experiences in the high country. They are wild, at times dangerous and always uncompromising. They are what they are and will not budge for anyone. If you get to summit one, it’s partly because the mountain let you do it. No one really conquers a mountain.

But for all the beauty that day, and the modest success of our efforts, my mind is elsewhere. Partly, it’s at home where a whole bevy of problems await. And it’s in Denver. Primarily in Denver. Every minute I’m here in the splendor of the San Juans is a day I’m not where I’m supposed to be.

It’s time to hit the road.

***

I’m amazed sometimes at the silliness in which I’ve partaken on the many long drives I’ve made. And grateful to God that I’ve survived some of them.

In college (how many stories of stupidity begin with, “back in college…”), driving through the high plains with some buddies to go skiing, I can remember switching drivers while the car was still moving at 75 mph. It was an awkward thing of one guy setting the cruise control, keeping a hand on the wheel while scooting to his right while I climbed over the bench seat from the back and clumsily slid into place to take over. Just dumb things college kids do, and usually we get away with it. I guess it doesn’t matter that one wrong move in this little exchange could have made us all grease spots on the highway, but seeing we lived through it and are now wiser through advanced years would teach us that such stupidity is not something to be repeated.

Thankfully, not all road trip foolishness is quite so dangerous.

This will have to do for a roadside "restroom" in the Oklahoma Panhandle. When traveling with women, you learn how well they can team up and improvise when the urge to pee is strong.

This will have to do for a roadside “restroom” in the Oklahoma Panhandle. When traveling with women, you learn how well they can team up and improvise when the urge to pee is strong.

A few years back, I was with a small group of friends and kin heading west to New Mexico where we planned to camp in the Carson National Forest and hike to that state’s high point, Wheeler Peak. Five of us were jammed into a late model Camry, streaking west across the same Oklahoma Panhandle highway I’d driven many times before. Suddenly the driver whips the car to the side of the road and stops. The door flies open, and he is on the run, sprinting through a muddy, recently cut cornfield.

Apparently, he’d seen a pheasant. Being an avid hunter, well, I guess his desire for the blood of a game bird was just too much to keep him contained in the car.

We all laughed at his antics. His shoes were caked with mud, and the pheasants were never in any real danger. Being in a crammed car for hours on end will make you do funny things. And the absurdity of the moment is exactly what made it perfect. I love Wheeler Peak and its many gorgeous vistas. But the pheasant chase is the recollection most seared into my brain from that particular trip.

Real life, normal life, is not usually filled with such random acts of frolic. The uninhibited glee over such a fruitless (but oh so profitable) exercise like this marks the high point of any given road trip. Normal life can go days, weeks, or months without the mirth so generously provided on that drive. But these little roadies are often filled with memories that in some way define us, flavor our lives with something new, fun and unexpected.

A culinary metaphor might be something like this: Our mini adventures are like a wonderful bowl of pho, where you taste every flavor – the broth, noodles, meat, vegetables and spices – all at once. Most of the rest of our lives is like a bologna sandwich without even the benefit of a squirt of mustard.

Fun isn’t the answer to all life’s problems, and I’m sure you can get by for a long time eating bologna sandwiches. But the rhetorical question is obvious: Would you really want to?

***

Me and Mike at camp below Mount Elbert, Colo. He's the big boy to the right.

Me and Mike at camp below Mount Elbert, Colo. He’s the big boy to the right.

My time in Denver is bittersweet. My oldest brother has always been a titanic figure in my life. Uncompromising in his own personal integrity, strong in body and mind, kind to those he knows and to strangers he doesn’t. Seeing him the hospital, he still has the powerful frame he spent years trying to build. But he’s been weakened by a cancer that wants to sap his immune system and wreck his body’s ability to produce blood cells. Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a disease very similar to leukemia, has taken hold and is not wasting time trying to get his body to waste away.

Not that it’s slowing him down, though. Even from his hospital bed, he’s hammering away at his computer, performing tasks for his job as a computer programmer. He’s also blogging about his newly joined fight against MDS and sending emails and Facebook messages to people who want to know how he’s doing.

Mike’s a take-charge kind of man when it comes to things like this. He learned everything he can about the illness, the ways to treat it and the methods in which the hospital provided care. He’s not one taking things lying down and is assertive in determining the direction of his treatment.

So I find myself not wanting to do too much for fear of making him feel helpless. At the same time, we both need to see each other. He needs my strength, and really, I need his. Cancer has a way of making the afflicted and the people who love them feed off each other’s strength and soothe each other’s fears.

In time, I find a few ways to make myself useful while I’m there. It feels good to help out. But I know that pretty soon, I’ll have to leave. It doesn’t matter that I don’t want to. Life goes on, and the show (or the trip) does not go on forever.

One more time, I pack my car. I head to the hospital to see Mike. Neither of us is really good at goodbyes, and given the circumstances at hand, this is even a bit more painful. I’d rather stick around for weeks, months or whatever it takes to get things right again for this amazing friend and sibling. So when I finally leave the hospital room and head to my car, a million thoughts are tumbling through my mind. Uncertainty awaits me when I get home. Worse yet, a far darker mystery gets left behind in Denver for a guy who lived for so long as a rock of strength for the family into which he was born as well as the one he raised.

These are the things that occupied my thoughts, blended with the soundtrack from my iPod, as I turned south, then east for the 12-hour drive back home. Just north of Castle Rock, I top off the car’s tank. My little Honda’s pretty good on gas, and I’m curious how far it will be before I need to stop to refuel. Such a random thought to have in a time that was so heavy! And yet there it was. It would matter later on.

***

Going home again is, to me, the toughest part of a trip. It means the fun’s over, the adventure is done and the whole “back to reality” thing is at hand. But hopefully that is not all.

When people think of the term “travel,” I’m not sure road trips come to mind. It’s certainly not erudite enough for some.

Travel, it would seem, is about going to new places, and then being transformed by them. Most people who take travel seriously turn their noses at tourist traps, all-inclusive resorts and anything else that might resemble what they can get at home. I know the feeling. On the occasions where I’ve gone overseas, I want to eat what the locals eat, stay in the same neighborhoods where they live and just soak it all in. There’s something very valuable to be gained by that. It’s not usually the stuff you bring back that is most treasured. Most often it’s the memories of what you saw, heard, smelled and tasted. Or who you met. It’s all treasure of the mind.

Think about Marco Polo, and how the stories were told of when he and his companions finally arrived home back in Italy, people didn’t recognize them as countrymen. They reportedly wore the clothes and practiced the customs of the eastern peoples they’d lived amongst for so many years. They’d changed.

There’s no ski trip on earth that’s going to be that weighty, no rad mountain ascent or cross-country bike adventure or whatever it is that most of us do that will be so epic as to become an iconic part of our cultural lore. But can our little indulgences of wanderlust be transformative? Is it possible to follow a jam band for a month and then go back home a changed person? Can four days of backpacking alter the course of your life, even if your “adventure” goes off without a hitch, without even so much of a hint of crisis?

I think it can. The fact that going home can be so hard can be evidence that something important did happen, that somehow the escape proved beneficial, cathartic or even life-changing. Maybe not always, but definitely not never.

I think back to another foray into the mountains with a small group of friends where we crammed all the hiking, camping, climbing and fishing we could into five days. As great as all of that was, the best memories were made in none of the places where we hiked, camped, climbed or fished. They happened in a van, where a book was discussed, new lines of conversation were opened, and a bunch of guys got very real with each other. They also happened at a fast-food restaurant run with such comical incompetence that all you could do was walk out and laugh. The journey home can be as rewarding as the trip itself, be it lessons learned during a philosophical roundtable inside a lumbering passenger van or endless guffaws over the lunacy of a bacon double cheeseburger served with everything, including the bacon, but no burger patties.

Things happen on the way home. And the best part is you get to take those experiences with you, too.

***

Way out in the plains, you see stuff like this. A good place to plant wind farms, a bad place to run out of gas.

Way out in the plains, you see stuff like this. A good place to plant wind farms, a bad place to run out of gas.

Somewhere in the eastern Oklahoma Panhandle, it dawns on me that my gambit to make it to Woodward for my next gas stop is not going to pay off. As lightly as my Honda has been sipping the gas, a road sign confirms it. Seventy-eight more miles to go until I reach Woodward, and the gas needle is below the “E” line.

This ordinarily wouldn’t be a big deal, at least if I was on some interstate highway. Towns seem to crop up every 20 miles or so, with 24-hour stations at the ready.

But not out here.

On U.S. 412, in the most rural stretch of highway in this mostly rural state, the touchstones of highway commerce are spare. I should have stopped for fuel in the notorious speed trap town of Hardesty, but that place left my rearview mirror a long time ago. Other corner stops have signs advertising gasoline for $1.79 a gallon, but there are no cars or pickups around. That’s mostly because the place stopped doing business years ago, when gas was still relatively cheap. The old price on the sign is somewhat like a clock on a wall of an office or store that was suddenly shuttered, be it for ordinary or tragic reasons. The long-stopped clock is a time stamp for closure. Same deal with the way-out-of-date gas prices.

I put my trust in a little village called Elmwood. I only know of this place because in my reporter days I wrote a story about a murder that happened at a motel here. As I drive through Elmwood, I come to realize that the slaying is not the only tragedy that has struck Elmwood and its largest business. That motel is now a burned-out husk, and has been that way for some time.  Unfortunately for me, when the motel burned the owners also shut down the gas station that went with it.

Ahead of me are a couple of small towns that might have something open. First up was Fort Supply, which exists only because there is a minimum security prison in town and a small lake nearby. It’s past 5 p.m., though, so any semblance of commerce that Fort Supply has looks to be done for the day. I drive on, nervously looking at the gas gauge, turning off anything electrical and slowing my speed in a lame attempt to preserve the few vapors I’ve got left in the tank.

I find myself looking around, trying to spot any farm houses that might be nearby.  There are a few, sometimes a half mile or more from the highway. If need be, I’m going to have to pull over and walk to one of these places, hoping that a stranger walking up to the doorstep doesn’t alarm some old farmer to the point where he wants to plant a load of buckshot in my chest. Visions of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” run through my mind. I could see it now…

“Sir, do you have a gallon of gas I could use? My car is about a mile away and I ran out.”

“Sure, son, come on in and take a load off.”

I go in, the door slams shut, and out walk ole Cooter’s grown kids, armed with power tools and giant blades, ready to do me in because it is I, not beef, that’s what’s for dinner.

Stupid, I know. But that’s the kind of stuff that crosses your mind when you’re alone, on the road, and faced with a dilemma that leaves you at the mercy of strangers. Sort of like when you’ve made camp somewhere, on your own, and the night is so quiet that any little noise rings down like a thunderbolt in your mind, where a literal thing-that-went-bump-in-the-night just ambled by a few feet outside your tent. It was probably just a dead twig falling off a nearby tree, but in your mind it was a bear looking at your bivvy like it was a nylon-wrapped human burrito.  Or a crazy guy sneaking up on your tent just before he pulls the starter on his chainsaw and makes you Victim Number Whatever.

Fort Supply is now far behind me, and I’m out of the Panhandle and pretty much out of gas. A little hamlet called May is just ahead. At 10 minutes till 7, surely there’s no way this place is open. I pull in. The lights are on. The pumps are on! And I’m saved. From embarrassment, that is. Because you see, the only danger I was in was having to make the walk of shame to the nearest inhabited domicile to beg for a gallon of gas, and the inconvenience of having my arrival delayed a couple of hours.

But adventure is what you make it. It’s very much in your head. A good road trip has the elements of adventure in it. It’s often a narrative of several individual experiences sewn together by a single goal. It’s accented by risk, success and failure. Joy and pain.  Companionship or, in some cases, badly needed solitude. And often it is, in some way, an event that has a lasting impact on you, be it for a season of life or an entire lifetime.

The days of Lewis and Clark or Hillary and Norgay may be way behind us. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go looking for them just the same. We’re lucky to have an open road in front of us that invites us to point that car in some direction, say “I’m going to go there” and then seek whatever lies around the next bend in the road.

Bob Doucette  

The Weekly Stoke: No rucks at Boston Marathon, a life-saving dog, Maria Kang, an ice climbing close call and why Wyoming is awesome

Grand Teton, Wyoming. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Grand Teton, Wyoming. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

I’ve been seriously feeling the need to get on the road. Probably has something to do with winter-induced cabin fever. In any case, that’s given me time to find some really good links for you to check out. Let’s get to it with the Weekly Stoke!

Security concerns have ruled out military groups from doing “ruck marches” during the Boston Marathon this year.

A man out on a snowmobiling trip has his dog to thank for saving his life.

Maria Kang and familiy.

Maria Kang and familiy.

Maria Kang, the controversial  “no excuses” fit mom of three kids who made a major Internet splash recently, is doubling down on that theme in this latest effort.

Here’s a good read about this runner’s latest 100-mile ultramarathon, and all the mental games that go into conquering such a race.

If that inspires you, then check out this: A young cross-country runner diagnosed with MS is not wasting time. She’s going all-out in her sport.

This link tells the amazing story of an ice climber who had the ice he was scaling fall right out from under him.

A female CrossFit competitor has a beef with the organization — she’s transgendered, and the CrossFit games is telling her she has to compete with the guys. So she is suing.

Here’s a list of 13 tips for doing your first mud run/obstacle course race.

And finally, one more list: 20 great things about Wyoming.

NPS opens up applications for Half Dome hiking permits

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. (Wikpedia Commons photo)

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

If you’re interested in hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, here is a bit of news you might want to know.

A report from The Associated Press says you can start applying for permits now. Up to 300 hikers per day are allowed on the cables leading to the top of Half Dome. But you need reservations.

Restrictions on numbers began in 2011, with the National Park Service citing safety as the main reason for the new rule.

The lottery system will end March 31, the AP reported, but 50 additional permits per day will be issued through the hiking season.

For more information, go to this link.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Alex Honnold does Fitz Roy Traverse, the death of Chad Kellogg, common running mistakes and how to avoid an avalanche

Fitz Roy, Patagonia, Argentina. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Fitz Roy, Patagonia, Argentina. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

It seems that maybe winter is beginning to lose its grip, at least in my part of the world. And that means more time outside. Not that you can’t have a good time in the snow. Anyway, here’s some more goodies in this edition of the Weekly Stoke!

It might seem like Alex Honnold gets a lot of attention in this space, but he keeps adding to an already amazing list of climbing and mountaineering accomplishments. His latest was a team effort with Tommy Caldwell to do one of the most radical traverses around, the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia.

Not all the news from Patagonia is good. Speed climber Chad Kellogg died from rockfall on Fitz Roy.

This post describes some common running mistakes — and how to avoid them.

This story is a fascinating account of what it’s like to suffer from a poisonous snakebite while in the bush of Myanmar.

And finally, there is this video on avoiding the dangers of an avalanche.

The Weekly Stoke: Climbing Ben Nevis, a centenarian swimmer, running your first ultra and fighting off a shark with a knife

Ben Nevis, Scotland. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Ben Nevis, Scotland. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

This edition of the Weekly Stoke is going to have a few themes. And good ones at that. Let’s not waste time!

Here’s an account of a winter climb of Scotland’s Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. It has some spectacular photos, and the route they chose is pretty fascinating.

Like Ben Nevis? You might also like this impressive list of 22 amazing places you’d have a hard time imagining even existed.

Let’s hear it for the older set. Here’s a pretty cool write-up about a couple who have lived and climbed together for decades, and why they chose to settle in South Dakota.

And then there’s this guy. He’s 104 years old, swims, swims long, and swims pretty fast. 104, people!

Here’s a short account of one tough dude: Goes out to sea, is attacked by a shark, fights it off, then proceeds to shore for a beer.

And on to the world of running: If you’re thinking about doing your first ultramarathon, here’s a list of considerations to make before you start.

Finally, another good running list: 5 key speed workouts for new runners. They’re good ones, and nothing feels quite like getting faster.

Have a great weekend!

The Weekly Stoke: Road life in a pickup, health benefits of ultras, controversy at Alta, and how to pick up girls at the climbing gym

One couple's idea of a new home. (adventure-journal.com photo)

One couple’s idea of a new home. (adventure-journal.com photo)

We’ve got a jam-packed edition of the Weekly Stoke this week, so let’s not waste time and get down to it…

A Vancouver couple ditched their downtown condo in favor of a pickup with a campertop and put their life on the road. Here are some of their thoughts on why they did it and what they’ve experienced.

Ultramarathoner and blogger Ashley Walsh takes on the issue of health benefits that come with ultra-length races and training. You might be surprised by her take.

Speaking of ultra training and health, these runners give you some of their tips for recovery.

And then there’s this story about running and suffering through “the death race.”

Alta ski resort in Utah is getting sued by snowboarders who are contesting its skiers-only policy.

Brendan Leonard creates a chart on how to appeal to girls at the climbing gym.

And finally, some information about how being outside in a natural setting trumps being outside in more man-made places.

Have a great weekend!

Year in review: I must say, 2013 pretty much rocked

bobd1

I guess it’s that time of year when those of us in the blogosphere look back on the previous year and share our thoughts. Far be it from me to buck the trend! But seriously, 2013 was a pretty great year overall, one marked by some great experiences. Here’s a quick recap:

Running

I’d say this is where I made the most progress. I’d been back into running for a couple of years by the time 2013 started, with a few races under my belt. I definitely had plenty of room for improvement, so early on I set some goals, then reset those goals as time passed on.

In February, I laid up a bit and raced in the Post Oak Challenge 10K trail race. A month later, I ran the Snake Run trail race in Tulsa, settling in on the three-hour event. In that one, I placed decently and threw down 15.1 miles. To that point, that was the longest distance I’d ever run.

Boston Strong at the OKC Memorial Marathon, where I did the half.

Boston Strong at the OKC Memorial Marathon, where I did the half.

When April rolled around, it was time for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. I’d never run a half marathon, though I’d already exceeded that distance. This was by far the largest run I’d ever done, with somewhere around 25,000 runners taking part.

I ran it in 2:20, which isn’t all that fast. But some really cool things happened.

For starters, the race starts at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, one of the most beautiful and moving monuments in the nation. If you don’t believe me, then go there and see for yourself. I can remember the horror of the April 19, 1995, bombing (I covered it for a small newspaper back then), the construction of the memorial and now this race. Having it happen two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing made this event even more significant to me, and doing it with such a huge crowd, well, it’s just something you have to experience. I’ll be back there again.

Secondly, I got to run the last five miles with a friend of mine who was also running her first half marathon. Carrie was battling some knee pain, but we kept each other motivated to finish, and finish we did. A lot of grit in that gal!

I steered clear of most races over the summer, taking a break in late spring before ramping up marathon training in July. What a process that turned out to be!

As the weekly mileage piled up, I got stronger. Lost some weight. Got faster. The first real test would come in October with the Tulsa Run 15K.

In 2012, I ran it in a plodding 1:44. At the time, I was just glad to have finished it. A year later I was a different athlete with much higher expectations. The 2013 race was the same course as 2012, and when it was over, I knocked it down in 1:28. I felt pretty good about that, then set my sights on the year’s big prize: the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa.

I’d never run a marathon, and my longest run to that point was 21 miles. It was 25 degrees at gun time, and I was heading into uncharted territory for me.

I knocked off the first half in 2:10, but really slowed down the last six miles. I wrapped it up in 4:50, right in the middle of the pack, but at a better pace than all my long training runs. A great experience, and one in which I am pleased. But I’m looking forward to improving that time.

There were a few 5Ks and a 10K mixed in there. One of my goals for 2013 was to get a 5K done in 24 minutes. I missed that goal, running the Turkey Trot in 26 minutes. But that’s three minutes faster than my best 5K of 2012. So that’s progress.

For me, this was the prize for a year's worth of hard work.

For me, this was the prize for a year’s worth of hard work.

I’d say 2013 was pretty productive in terms of running, and it’s another layer of a foundation that I hope to build on going forward. Maybe a 4:30 marathon? Sub-24 5K? An ultra? We’ll see. I never started 2013 thinking I’d do a full marathon. So stay tuned.

In the mountains

Like previous years, I was limited to heading into the high country to the summer and fall months. But the times I got away provided some memorable trips.

In June, I joined a few friends for a trip into the San Juans near Ouray, Colo., to tackle the southwest ridge of Mount Sneffels.

Clockwise, from top left, are Chuck, David, me and Noel on Mount Sneffels' summit.

Clockwise, from top left, are Chuck, David, me and Noel on Mount Sneffels’ summit.

The route is a fun, extended Class 3 trip that bypasses the scree hell of this gorgeous peak’s standard route. I highly recommend it. The ridge going up was intriguing in terms of climbing, and incredibly scenic. We went down the standard route, which gave us a chance at practicing a snow climb descent. I’m always down for a little snow.

What I wasn’t down for was the dozen or so other climbers going up and down Sneffels’ snow-filled upper gully without proper gear. And then there was the guy (who we never saw) who left two scared, tired and inexperienced/ill-equipped partners in the gully while he tagged the summit. Not cool, but glad we could help them.

That was overshadowed by the ridiculously picturesque summit views looking down on the Dallas Divide and Yankee Boy Basin. And let’s not forget the company I had on this trip. Noel, Chuck and David are rock stars, and I hope to hike and climb with them again very soon.

Earlier that week, I had a chance to take another friend up his first 14er. Brent, aka, Animal, is a fitness coach, jiu jitsu brown belt, bouncer and online entrepreneur who has a love of mountains and recently moved to the Denver area. I figured a perfect starter peak was Mount Evans, close to Denver and a good place to cut your teeth on high country adventure.

Animal starts blasting his way up the lower slopes of Mount Spalding on our way to Mount Evans' summit.

Animal starts blasting his way up the lower slopes of Mount Spalding on our way to Mount Evans’ summit.

We chose the Mount Spalding to Mount Evans traverse, which I highly recommend. It’s a little less traveled than some of the other routes, and the views of nearby Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth Ridge are spectacular.

Animal killed it. He was way stronger on his 14er than I was on mine. We shot the breeze afterward at a sweet brewpub in Idaho Springs and pretty much tried to solve the world’s problems in one night over hot food and cold beers. Always a great way to end a day trip into the mountains.

In the fall, some of my other Colorado buddies invited me on a climb of Capitol Peak, a tough, exposed and beautiful mountain in the Elk Range. This would have been my toughest climb to date, and I looked forward to the challenge.

But the weather conspired against us. The trip was planned the same weekend that Colorado was pounded by 100-year flood events that devastated Boulder, Estes Park and other mountain towns in the northern Front Range and foothills. The Capitol Peak climb was washed out.

Since I was already in Colorado, I decided to salvage the trip. So I ended up going further south into the Sawatch Range and car camped at Missouri Gulch.

Others had expressed interest in joining me on a trip up Missouri Mountain, but one by one they all had to bail. So this turned into my first solo 14er ascent.

The trail disappears into the mist near the top of Missouri Mountain. Doing this solo was amazing.

The trail disappears into the mist near the top of Missouri Mountain. Doing this solo was amazing.

I wasn’t at my best that day, and the weather was dodgy throughout. But the rains held off. The ethereal and spooky atmospherics of the cloud cover, the near solitude going up the mountain and the wildlife made this one of the most spectacular days in the mountains I’ve ever had. I can see myself doing another solo ascent in the future.

So 2013 ended with three 14er summits, and a bonus 13er summit to boot. Not bad for this ole flatlander. For 2014, my hope is for more summits, with tougher routes. Class 4 peaks in the San Juans and the Elk range come to mind, and some time in the Sangres would be good as well.

The blog

When 2012 ended, Proactiveoutside had just over 20,000 page views and some growth. In 2013, interesting and at times explosive things happened.

Traffic steadily went up, but it was a post I wrote a day after the Boston Marathon bombing that blew my mind. Or, more accurately, the reader response to it.

The theme, in short, was that despite the tragedy and evil of the attack, good people doing great things would win the day. People read the piece, shared it, retweeted it, and linked to it. A day after it published, more than 30,000 people read it. It blew up on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, on Twitter. CNN quoted it online and linked to it. To date, about 42,000 people have clicked to read it. It hit a nerve, and I’m grateful for everyone’s comments, shares and the time they took to read. It’s humbling.

Another post made WordPress’ Freshly Pressed roster, which was also pretty cool. I got a lot of comments from fellow WordPress bloggers on that piece, in which I wrote about running trails just for the fun of it.

To date, Proactiveoutside had been viewed more than 101,000 times. More than 1,600 people follow the site, and over 1,300 comments on 361 posts have been made. Included in all of that are fitness tips, gear reviews, trip reports, outdoor news, essays and other stuff I hope people have enjoyed.

One nice subplot to all of this: Salomon was kind enough to send me a pair of Sense Mantra trail running shoes to test and review, and EnergyBits sent me a sample to try as well. I’m always grateful to companies who seek my opinions on their products, though most of the gear I review is purchased or otherwise obtained on my own.

I decided to branch out a little, creating a Facebook page and an Instagram account for Proactiveoutside. Check ‘em out!

This site is not a money-maker for me, though I wouldn’t mind it. I do it for fun.

Going forward

I hope 2014 can see as much progress, growth and fun that 2013 provided. I’m thankful for all your input and sharing these experiences with me, and I’m especially grateful to the folks who ran with me, hiked with me and climbed with me.

Here’s to another year of getting out there and getting it done.

Bob Doucette

Here's to a great 2014!

Here’s to a great 2014!

The Weekly Stoke: Surviving an avalanche, how to spot a bad partner, father-son adventuring and a new outdoorsy book

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We’re just a few days away from Christmas, and my guess is a lot of you have some time off to spend with family or just relax. My hope is that you’ll find some time to ski, board, snowshoe, hike, climb, run, bike, race or whatever it is you do outside while you’re off. Use your time to the fullest!

All that said, here’s an abbreviated version of the Weekly Stoke…

Not long ago, a video started making the rounds about a backcountry skier who triggered an avalanche in Utah. The slide partially buried her, despite her avy airbags deploying. That skier, Amie Engerbretson, tells her story, and does so in a detailed and humble way.

That said, stuff happens. But are there steps you can take to make sure you’re not out with bad skiing or mountaineering partners? This list shows some of the red flags you need to be looking for.

Want to see a great trip report? And the ultimate outdoor father-son adventure? Read this one from Summitpost. Beats Disneyland any day.

Finally, if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for that outdoorsy, road-trip-loving friend or family member, read this excerpt from Brendan Leonard’s new book. The guy can write, and he’s led a pretty interesting life on the road.

Have a great weekend, and Merry Christmas!

The Weekly Stoke: Adventure on the Amur, a new ultra, grizzly hunting in Yellowstone, and an appreciation of rocks

The Amur River, eastern Siberia. (Wikipedia commons photo)

The Amur River, eastern Siberia. (Wikipedia commons photo)

Reaching deep into the online outdoor universe, there are some cool things to be learned. A few nuggets to whet your appetite for adventure and achievement on the Weekly Stoke!

Four women went on an extraordinary journey, paddling the largest wild river (not dammed anywhere on its length) left in the world, the Amur of Siberia. This is the heart of adventure.

If you like altitude, amazing scenery and a physical challenge, a Texas transplant who now lives in Ouray, Colo., is planning a 100-mile ultramarathon in his new hometown. It’s scheduled for early August next year.

Speaking of ultra runners, this link has a short video about a blind ultramarathoner and his running companion. Inspiring stuff!

Could there be grizzly hunting in Yellowstone? The door may be opening for that soon.

Back to adventurous women: Here’s a Q&A with solo sailor Liz Clark, who sails across the globe.

And finally, Semi-Rad’s ode to rocks. If you’re a climber, hiker or mountaineer, well, you need to give it up to rocks.

Have an amazing weekend!

The Weekly Stoke: Adventure in Afghanistan, Grand Canyon goals, Chris McCandless photos and uncommon courage on Mount Everest

The Grand Canyon. (wikipedia commons photo)

The Grand Canyon. (wikipedia commons photo)

Thanksgiving and a big race got in my way a bit lately. But the Weekly Stoke is back! And at a great time. Yesterday was this blog’s second anniversary. I’ll get into more of that at another time, but for now, let’s celebrate Proactiveoutside’s second birthday with some great links for you to read on this cold, snowy day.

There’s “adventure,” and then there’s real adventure. These guys went looking for it in the mountains of Afghanistan. Yes, they climbed some peaks. But they got a whole lot more than that.

Let’s talk challenge. This blogger and outdoor enthusiast has set quite a goal for a rim-to-rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon.

After two decades, the family of Chris McCandless (of “Into the Wild” fame) has released a series of never-before seen photos of this man’s vagabond life in the West and his ultimate end in the Alaskan bush. A book with these photos is forthcoming.

This writer has a good list of things she wants her daughter to know about working out.

Long-distance running star Alberto Salazar has a list of his own, 10 Golden Rules of Running.

And finally, here’s a story about how this woman helped a violent situation on Mount Everest stop short of being deadly.

Enjoy your weekend!