Fall is here....and it's dudh chia time!!

Ah, fall has arrived in North Texas. I saw the signs in late August. One yellowing pecan-tree leaf was spied butterflying through the air while I was walking the girls on the greenbelt. When I got home I announced to J that fall was upon us.
"It's 95 degrees outside!!"
"Yeah, but it feels different."
A few days later I noticed that Leia seemed to be shedding a lot. Chicken Little made another pronouncement, quickly and deftly refuted by J -- along with a look and shaking of the head that suggested I might indeed be "off" in more ways than one.
So we packed up the car, loaded the girls, and headed off to Colorado. I like to think that I was tracking down autumn, but we were in fact headed out on vacation. Can you say working vacation?
We drove up to Buena Vista where we'd rented a cabin with easy access to some of the Collegiate 14ers: Mts. Yale, Oxford, Harvard, and all their ivy cousins. And we were going to climb a 14er (my first) this year.
Last year while in Colorado, we stayed in Leadville (first and last time) and attempted several of the 14ers, but the weather was so rainy that we didn't have much luck in getting up any of them. We did Pike's Peak, but it didn't really count because we drove up most of the way, parked at one of the trailheads, then climbed the remainder. You walk a short way along the road, cross over, and then hike up a path to the boulders that separate you from the peak. As we got to the boulders, it started raining. Then the graupel started. Then the lightning. But we made it. And it was such a let-down because, as you're sucking in those deep breaths in that 14,000 foot thin air, you realize you're inhaling pure car exhaust. We snapped a few pics at the summit, by which time the sleet was coming down in sheets, and then a couple generously (as mountain people are wont to be) offered to drive us down to our car. Pike's Peak - proof that no 14er peak should be accessible by car.

We attempted Mts. Belford and Elbert, but decided we didn't want to experiment at being human lightning rods and high-tailed it down as fast as one can "run" down a mountain, through wooded switchbacks, over streams with slippery log crossings, and to the dry safety of the car. Whew!

This year we were going to give Mt. Belford another try. We were going to start early (around 3 a.m.); do the switchback route (that I didn't want to do last year because it looked tough and like there were "exposed" areas); take the alternate route back; and hopefully be back to the car by 1 or 2 in the afternoon. The route is an ankle-twisting, torture-every-fiber-of-muscle-in-your-legs 11 miles long -- 5.5 miles of which is up, up, and more up.

I hadn't prepared myself at all for the climb. First of all, I really hadn't done anything resembling a workout since last December's surgery. Then, two additional surgeries were plenty of justification to go ahead, take it easy. So my body's been through the mill with surgeries and healing, I haven't done anything physical to speak of, and I'm about to embark on a trip to Colorado to do some hike/climbs that are listed as "moderately difficult." See, I said it was a working vacation. A moderately difficult working vacation.

So about 2 weeks before we left, I decided I should probably start walking, doing squats, riding my bike. Something. Anything. But it was so hot. Fall, but hot nevertheless. And so I put off my training hoping that somehow I could miraculously make it up the mountain.

Instead, I concentrated on our food. I mixed up the spices for our sweet milk tea (Nepali dudh chia); mixed up our mueslis (oat groats for me, rolled oats for J); gathered and packed our breads (gluten-free for me, foccaccia for J); sliced cheese and Quorn roast for sandwiches; made tempeh chili; made arepas; made wonderful little rice crispy treats from Heidi's recipe (you MUST try these); packed the girls' food and treats.

Ah, the day of judgment was coming. Fast.

In Buena Vista we checked the weather, meticulously, over and over, and determined that Monday the 14th would be the day. Meantime, we did a few little hikes on the trails above the rec center park, walked from our cabins to the farmer's market, to Serendipity yarn shop (often, heh heh), and just enjoyed being in the mountains.

"Doesn't this place feel like home??" J kept asking. "I want to move here. I need to move here."

Leia and Sonoma love it, too. J played ball with them every day at the soccer fields.

Fast forward to the day of judgment. Up at 2 a.m. Fed the girls, grabbed our muesli to eat in the car, and drove to the trailhead. Good thing we had dudh chia to start it off, because 3 a.m. at 9,500+ feet in September is ch.ch.chill.ly. Got the girls' backpacks on, got ours on, quick photo (the reflective strips on the girls' stuff lights up brilliantly!!), and hi-ho hi-ho it's up the mountain we go.

If you've never done it, you need to start off on a hike while it's still dark. And cold. It's quiet. Peaceful. Headlamps help you navigate the trail, as you feel the excitement and energy of a new adventure.

The girls felt it, too. Both of them were pulling so hard that I felt out of breath just trying to keep up their breakneck pace. After just a few minutes of this, I seriously regretted my lack of physical preparation. OMG and we still had hours to go before daylight....

Daylight did come and it was magnificent. Hard to describe, but whenever I get to watch a sunrise, even after I've already put in a few hours of hard labor, it feels like all is right with the world. You're not thinking about phone calls and emails you have to return, or what needs fixing around the house, or whose sales are hitting forecast. You just know that this earth, terra firma, is home and you're connected to it and every living thing on it. It's all good.

Out of the trees, into the daylight, and the switchbacks are directly ahead. Take a deep breath, because you're gonna need it. Well, I needed it. I needed it to energize myself. I needed it to focus myself on the task at hand -- a few thousand feet of switchbacks and dizzying heights. Did I mention I have a horrible fear of heights?? It was at this point that I started my mantra: Look up and ahead. Take it one quiet step at a time. Left. Right. I didn't dare even suggest to myself not to look down. I was trying to be positive and think only about up and ahead, and that each step would get me closer to the top.

By this point, J had taken on both Leia and Sonoma. I couldn't deal with the heights, the exposure, and the thought of having one of them pulling me....right off the side of Mt. Belford. So J and the girls sped ahead and every once in a while would take a little break while I huffed and puffed my way toward them. By the time I reached them, they were rehydrated, snacked up and refreshed, and ready to move on.

I, on the other hand, never stopped. I kept going, one step at a time, looking up and ahead -- till I got to the spot. The exposed spot. I saw J up and ahead looking down at me, and I had the feeling he wanted to say something, but he just kept watching. Yeah, he was thinking this was the spot where I call it quits. I was thinking the same thing. Only I had begun to crouch in toward the side of the slope and knew that there was no way I could walk back down the switchbacks (because that would mean looking down, not up and ahead!!), and that to get off this mountain I had to get to the summit. Heartrate speeds up. Or call in the mountain rescue and chopper me out. Heart beats faster. And where did I propose they land?? Heart beats a lot faster. So, it's up the mountain or...

Out of nowhere, this guy comes running up the switchbacks and says, "Perfect day, isn't it?"

I took a deep breath and on the exhale quietly said, "I'm terribly afraid of heights" in a voice that made him stop and say, "Yeah, it's a little exposed here. Wanna take my hand and let me help you around this spot?"

At which point J calls down, "Sir, could you please help my wife around that spot?"

J thanked the guy and explained to him about the cancer and the surgeries, and that Nini Belle was going through chemo, and that I was climbing this mountain for us. Telling the guy how strong I was. And the guy was saying how great and inspirational that was. Yadda yadda. Totally obligating me to beat the mountain since I'd beat the cancer.

And the rest is history. Well, herstory. But not that fast!

It was a long, cold haul up there. Made it through the icy graupel patches. Through the shivering wind. I never stopped moving till I reached the sunshine-swathed summit. Then I cried. Cried hard. Because I made it. Because I beat it. The cancer and the mountain.

A kiss from J. Hugs for Leia and Sonoma. A few summit photos. A delicious sandwich and big gulps of water. Five and a half miles back to the trailhead. Drove back to the cabing. Mugs of dudh chia. A long, hot shower. A great day.

Will post more pics.

Dudh Chia

In Estes Park, there's a little family-run restaurant we've always gone to eat called Nepal's Cafe on Elkhorn Avenue. The family serves delicious hot spiced milk tea the way it's made in Nepal. While I don't know exactly how they make theirs, I played around with spice combinations and this comes as close to our memory of their tea as I can imagine. First you have to make the spice mix. Then, mix that with milk, water, sugar, tea and enjoy. Take a sip, close your eyes, and pretend you're at Base Camp on Everest.

Spice Mix:

1 tablespoon each of ground cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Stir the spices together and keep in an airtight glass jar. Obviously, the fresher the spices, the tastier the tea.

To make the hot tea, heat 1 1/2 cups water, 1 cup milk (I use coconut or soy), and 1 tablespoon sugar (or honey) in a saucepan till boiling. Stir in 1 heaping tablespoon of black tea (I like Earl Grey) and 1-2 teaspoons spice mix (I use 2 because I like it spicy). Allow to simmer about 5 minutes, strain into heated mugs, and serve. Makes 2 servings.

** Editor's Note: Editor-schmeditor -- the layout is virtually impossible to control. Sorry!!

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