Tales From the Trail-Guitar Lake to Mt Whitney

Into the mountains I go. To lose my mind and find my soul. img_0570

When we woke it was cold. I had smartly decided to wear a base layer under my hiking pants. I layered on a top base layer, a cold weather fleece, my down jacket, beanie, buff and my gloves. I was cold now but knew I’d warm in the climb. I put on my headlamp and unzipped myself from my tent. Immediately I noticed what appeared to be fire flies out in the night sky, which after taking a second look I realized where the headlamps of the hikers climbing Whitney ahead of us. Their lights danced in black space as they made their way up switchback after switchback in the freezing cold of the night.

The terrain of Whitney is rough and jagged. It’s granite boulders unfriendly. Sharp and serrated. As we started our way up we sludged through water running down the grassy slopes. The only green laying like a skirt at the bottom of this giant, granite treasure. My breathing was out of rythym and I wasn’t sure if the cause was the frigid cold, the accent or fear that had a grip on me. I can’t tell you why I was experiencing fear, other than worrying about altitude sickness, climbing in the dead of night or falling or quite possibly it was the fear of the unknown or the fear of failure.
As we climbed I could look out into the dark abyss below us and see the bobbing head lamps that reminded me of twinkling stars. I wondered how many would join us at the top for the sunrise.

Making it to Trail Crest was surreal. I had that a-ha moment of “I’m actually doing this!” Adrenaline rushed through my body. Trail Crest is the turn you take to the summit where the trail from Guitar Lake meets the Whitney Portal trail. It’s a staging area for the summit. Large packs are dropped and left here and slack packs are put on. The trial gets steeper and narrows at this point.

Previous to going to bed, we had packed our slack packs. Since we were returning to Guitar Lake we didn’t have to bring our big packs. We packed a small amount of food and enough water to get us to the summit and back.img_4946

Shortly after leaving Trail Crest I got ahead of K and K. J had decided that morning that she was going to skip the summit due to an injury from the day before. Being up Mt Whitney before she decided it wasn’t worth the risk to possibly take her out of the rest of the trip. At this point I was climbing alone in pitch black. No one ahead of me or behind me as far as I could see. I’m not gonna lie I was terrified! It was very empowering, scared me to death and allowed me to overcome some fears. I shook as I walked. I was cold and spilling over with unease. I had to get myself under control and allow my bravery to kick in. It was completely silent except for the wind on the side of the granite slab to my right. The other side a sheer drop. I learned right then I am a lot braver than I think I am. My entire world existed in a tiny dot of light from my headlamp. I couldn’t see further than 5 feet. As the trail narrowed I had a hard time being able to tell where I was going, a couple of times climbing over waist-high boulders dead center in the trail and watching every step I made as to make sure I planted my foot wisely. It was getting colder and colder and I was starting to get in to some snow and ice. I was anxious to reach the top and I was worried that I wouldn’t make it before the sunrise.img_0569

I prayed  and knew that God is not a God of fear. This calmed me. I was quickly reminded of all the fearful things He’s brought me through only to step to the other side of that fear and feel accomplished, free, able, unrestrained and….enough. I think moving past fear is healthy.  To do so is liberating. It changes you. You no longer feel the need to compromise or settle. And what’s funny is after you’ve smiled in the face of fear, you know you can never go back. You can’t go back into the unhappy relationship, the dead end job, the unhealthy friendship, the uneventful life, or the unloved and given-up dreams.  You won’t allow fear to trample you again. You may have the occasional whisper of fear, a hint that reminds you that you’re human, but it will never overtake you enough to disable you.

When I turned the final switch back I saw it. Silhouetted by the faint glow of the pre-risen sun. The hut! I made it. A sob choked out. Relief from my discomfort and a complete sense of joy filled me! A feeling of success washed over me. I went inside just enough to warm up a bit (the summit was in the low 20’s with a sharp, biting wind)  then I walked out to the summit table where ten others were perched waiting to be kissed by the sun. I sat alone and cried. I was overwhelmed, so caught up and grateful to be there right in this moment and as the sun rose I sat in praise! How awesomely, magnificent this gorgeous country is! How strong I am. How great our God is.

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*As I finish this blogpost I have just received confirmation of issue for another wildernesses permit for the JMT hiking southbound this time (SOBO) this July/Aug including, God willing, another summit of Mt Whitney!!

**Mt Whitney summit 14,505 feet

                                       May you always do what you’re afraid to do.

One Word…..

Welcome to the New Year!

It’s almost February and I’m wondering for all of you New Year Resolutionaries…How Ya Doin’? Keeping up on your plans? Your workouts? Your promises to yourself? Your family? Your friends? Are you reading more? Starting your new language? Learning to play that new instrument? Training for a marathon? Traveling? Skydiving?

What WAS the plan? The resolution?

Twenty One days to make a habit they say…if you’ve held out this long, then you are most certainly on the right track!

I’m not a resolution maker. I never have been. I feel like I learn, acclimate, adapt, goal-dream, every day. So I do a word! There’s a great website that I stumbled upon a few years ago; One Word 365 and I thought “THIS! This is awesome!” Ever since, I’ve done One Word.

2015 the word that came to me: RISK! It was a bold choice, and quite frankly a little scary. I am already a huge risk-taker…so to have RISK be the word that came to me for 2015, I thought…..”How much more?”

I think about and pray about this word daily. I’ve shared this word with friends, and family and the Hubster. It. Is. Out. There. Dangling in front of my every move. It’s thick in my mind every day.images-1

I’ve been very prayerful about it. “Lead me. Send me. Take me to the risk that YOU see for me.” That’s scary! That’s a huge. Audacious. Intrepid. And at the same time, if you know me…..right up my alley. Still, there’s a small part of me that thinks;


I don’t even know what this is going to look like right now.

Will it be one great risk? Or will it be a series of small ambiguous uncertainties that unite into one?

Isn’t that the great thing about faith? And risk? The exhilaration of the unknown.

Unknown I’ve already been challenged a few times since the New Year on my One Word. And interestingly enough, my sidekick <see hubby> has helped me to recognize when in fact I haven’t or almost haven’t taken a risk that sat right in front of me. New relationships are one area. So I’ve taken the leap. Or….am at least standing on my tippy-toes, cliff-side, the tiny rocks crumbling at my feet, prompting me to step. As intimidating as it may be, I will live out RISK. With God. With my family. My friends. My faith. My training. My racing. My life.

I love what Rick Warren wrote about taking risks:

-You probably remember the part in the third Indiana Jones movie where Indiana Jones came to the edge of a cliff. He was challenged to step out over the cliff even though he couldn’t see a bridge beforehand. That’s not a bad picture of genuine faith. Faith is stepping out and doing what God has asked you to do when you can’t see what will happen in the end. You don’t know exactly what God’s going to do in the end, but you know he’s asking you to step out in faith. Click here for full article.

What scares you? Do you make resolutions or goals? What are they? Are you good at keeping them?  Are you fearful to move?  Do yourself a favor; follow through. This time next year, you will look back with great esteem and admiration at what you’ve accomplished.image1

I cannot wait to see this year of RISK unfold and evolve.

Fearlessness/Abhaya (Ironman Canada Swim)

If you know me, the furthest thing you would ever hear come out of my mouth is, “Hey, I want to go swim 2.4 miles!”

When I did my very first triathlon about 8 years ago, I was petrified.  I remember wondering if there was any way I was going to make it out of the water.  At the turn around, I honestly felt like I was going to have to stop and have them pull me out.  This was a ¼ mile swim.  It took me almost 11 minutes.

Fast-forward a few years to 2010.  My first Ironman.  Same thing.  Even though I had put in the training for the swim, I was terrified!  I knew I had the endurance to make the swim, but competitive, open water swimming has been a source of constant fear for me.  Well…in lake water!  (I am MUCH more at ease, and feel in my element in the ocean)  I just couldn’t get over the murky-ness, the evil looking weeds that promise to grab me by the ankle and pull me under, the pollen, the darkness of the very deep and the fact that it was WAY over my head.  I know this is completely laughable to some, but its how I felt.  Even in the lakes here in Coeur d’Alene, which are clean, gorgeous and crystal clear, I could still feel myself getting anxious during every swim.  My first real open water lake swim in 2010 happened in a tiny man-made lake.  I could stand the whole way, but I was scared out of my mind.


No more fear.  My swimming this year has come a log way, and I have grown to LOVE the lake swims.  Meeting my friends at the beach in the early morning, as the sun is rising, is one of my favorite things to do now.  I adore starting my day off this way.  It’s relaxing.  It calms me.  Brings me so much peace.

Ironman Canada!

Coming down and looking at the lake the morning of the race brought tears to my eyes.  Not out of fear.  Not out of dread.  Out of the sheer fact that for some reason, I knew..this swim was going to be incredible!  The lake on the morning of August 26,2012 was glass!  Temperature was 72 degrees.  A tad warm, but very comfortable.  There was not an ounce of wind blowing.  It was truly the perfect morning.

In transition, I went to my bike, filling bottles, and combing over things with a fine-toothed comb.  My bike seemed light, and that gave me a little nervous feeling in my stomach.  Light because of the fact that 2 years ago, my bike was weighted down with all sorts of gels, chomps, chews, pills, water, liquid nutrition, gas-ex, Tums, and some snacks.  I looked like I was going on a years expedition.  This year….3 bottles on the bike and powder in my Bento.  Badda-Bing!  Traveling light.  Which appeals to me so much better.  In all of my life, really.

I did a quick potty stop, and walked over to the dry bag area, pulling on my wetsuit.  Fumbling with goggles, I hadn’t quite made the decision on wearing one pair or two.  I ultimately decided on two. One on my face, under my cap, and one pair inside my wetsuit.

With my cap on we wandered down to the water.  I was so calm.

The plan was to wade in and to the right of the beach.  Plan diverted…

As soon as my feet hit the water, I went straight in.  And not towards the back!!

“I am your strength and your shield” (Prov 28:7)

“See My face and feel my strength” (Prov 105:4)

“Do not fear, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10)

“Feel My peace” (Prov 29:11)

“You’ve got this Paula, and I’ve got you” ~Love God.

No fear!  This is what I felt.  None!

I stood with my friend, and saw her anxious face.  She was breathing heavy with tears threatening to spill over as they welled up in her eyes.  I grabbed her face with my hands, and said, “Look at me!!  You have done this swim.  This distance.  You are ready, and will do great!  Find your own path in the water and go for it, and I will see you at the finish!” (I wonder now, if she remembers that moment)  10 seconds after saying that, the horn blew, and I dove in.

My swim was amazing.  The water in Canada is so clear.  Much like Coeur d’Alene.  I swam hard, but at a pace I felt very comfortable with.  A pace that I could’ve swam for miles.  I was not worried about being kicked, punched, swam over.  The thought crossed my mind, but I swam fearlessly!  I stayed in a tight pack the whole way.  Elbow to elbow on both sides of me, head to feet, feet to head, yet I still, had no fear.  Heading around the first buoy, I looked down, and there were divers underneath us.  That was cool to see.  I SMILED AND WAVED as I thought, we are at the first buoy ALREADY!

It’s a one-loop swim, in a sort of triangle!  I was elated!  A few hundred yards, and we would pass the last buoy for the home stretch.  Bam!

The last buoy was far in the distance, and I was starting to hear the announcer.  I am sure I had a stupid smile on my face.  Even in the water.

I kept thinking and reminding myself to NOT stand up in that water towards the beach.  This lake….you can literally wade out for probably 100 yards.  I have watched this race for the past 2 years, and see people wading as soon as they can touch.  Then they try running through the water at chest/waist deep.  I figured as soon as my feet could touch, I would want to do the same.  After all, my foot on land makes me feel secure.  Don’t do it, Paula!!

I could see people ahead of me starting to stand up.  I touched my feet to the bottom, and stood….ish!  And dove right back under.  No way was I going to use up energy running through the water.  And truly, I almost had the feeling of not wanting to exit the water.  My swim felt so good.  I kept swimming until my fingers almost touched the sand, and up I stood.  Running in with a group of athletes, peeling my wetsuit off, the goggles I had inside my suit fell out and into the water.  BRAND new pair of Blue Seventy’s.  Never worn.  I turned for a split second to see them start to sink….the guy behind me was running and closing in on me….that cannot happen!

I could hear them announcing times as athletes crossed over the timing mat.  The beeps were growing louder as water was draining out of my ears.  I hear a 1:25-something.  My mouth turned up into the biggest smile.  (I know for speedy swimmers this seems like a time not to be celebrated, but for a slow swimming mermaid like myself this was extraordinary)

Yanking off my cap and goggles I reached the timing mat, heard my name called and flew into transition feeling on top of the World!  This day….I knew was going to be magical.

Swim time: 1:26:15

***A few years ago, the Hubs bought me this amazing necklace.  It speaks to my true nature and is how I conduct my life, my family, my past and my future and I wear it every day.  I know I am not in control.  I know there is no “putting my life at risk” My days are numbered, as are the hairs on my head.  My life is in the hands of my Creator.

~Being FEARLESS isn’t being 100% Not FEARFUL, it’s being terrified but you jump anyway…

My necklace: Me and Row

Here We Go!

Ironman Canada Swim 

Swim Exit!

Feeling On Top of the World