December Yurt Trip: A Return to the Backcountry

IMG_1037As I shuffled my skis uphill through more than a foot of fresh powder in the northern Colorado backcountry, I couldn’t help thinking, man, I have missed this! Soon we would enjoy the reward: descending the lines we ascended. Such is backcountry skiing—significant investment, significant reward.

In mid December, I ventured on an unexpected yurt trip in northern Colorado. After a great early season across the state, it was an easy trip to say yes to when I got the invite.

When I say yurt trip, I mean where one skis into a round felt-covered shelter in the wilderness, carrying gear and food in backpacks and sleds. This would be my third of such trips to this area, though this year we would technically be staying in a “hut”—the Nokhu Hut—more like small cabin. Plush with rustic charm, yurts and huts are typically heated by a wood burning stove, furnished with bunk beds, and a tiny kitchen.

For me, this trip was much needed. After a grueling fall of building a website (hopehasarrived.com), I was ready for a break. I became justifiably stoked about the prospect of backcountry skiing—especially since it had been a few years.

While I have skied a fair amount the past couple years, it was mostly in bounds and some skinning at the small ski area, near where I currently live, sans beacon. I had not ventured into the backcountry since early 2016, before my health trial began. I’m much better place now, but lack of mountain proximity and fitness have delayed this from happening. Until now.

So, that’s how I found myself skinning through the Never Summer Mountains with a sled filled with gear and food. The name comes from Arapaho Indian name, Ni-chebe-chii, which translates to Never No Summer, and when you venture through them in winter, it’s easy to appreciate why.

Indeed, Cameron Pass had well over 40 inches on the ground and even more higher up. More was coming, too—slanting streams of white flakes buffeted our faces as we ascended the trail. The approach to the hut was —only about 1.1 miles—though mostly uphill. After an hour or so, we reached the turn off.

When we reached the hut, not surprisingly the little shelter and woodshed were blanketed by a two-foot pillows on top and piles of white on the sides. We soon went inside and lit a well-deserved fire.

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After a short rest, we explored the area east of the cabin and found a small glade worthy of a few ski turns. It was a great warm up, but tomorrow we hoped we find something a little more substantial.

That night, it kept snowing and snowing.

Meanwhile, inside our hut, we underestimated the heating capacity of the wood-burning stove and especially the insulation. Unlike the yurts, keeping the fire going overnight was completely unnecessary. I sat in the top bunk sweating like a beach goer in southern Florida in August. After an hour of no sleep, I crept out of my bed, opened the door and sat there cooling in the wind and snow. I quickly learned I wasn’t the only one overheating. One by one, everybody else got up and did the same thing. Maybe we should change the name to Never Sleep Hut or Forever Sweaty?

The next day, we woke up to the Colorado bluebird special: more than a foot of fresh powder, zero wind and a clear sky overhead. We then noticed what we couldn’t see when it was snowing—the prominent spires overshadowing our hut called the Nokhu Crags, which means Eagle’s Nest and is a stunning feature to say the least.

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Soon we set off to explore the Lake Agnes area. With the fresh snow, the jaunt turned out to be calorie-zapping affair, as breaking trail often requires double the effort of just following someone else’s tracks.

When we reached the lake, the peaks surrounding the lake were majestic but foreboding. Though they promised a buffet of steep ski line delicacies, we were wise to look but not taste. Colorado boasts one of the most dangerous snowpacks in the U.S. and I anticipate the Never Summer snowpack was “considerable” danger based on my observations and recent snowfall. Generally in Colorado it is smart to stick to low angle terrain until the snowpack settles in the spring—even late spring. That’s essentially the message you will hear in any avalanche course you take in the Centennial State.

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Unfortunately, we found it difficult to access the terrain we wanted from the lake, so we descended the way we came, and then another buddy and I ascended a different run of trees. Here we found the goods, the area most people referenced in the journals in the hut, though they never quite spelled out how to get to. The work was well worth the pay off. Not exactly your steep black diamond run—more like a green or easy blue—but with deep untouched snow. Maybe even two feet deep. Wow.

Later that night, we scarfed an epic meal of quinoa spinach and turkey—thanks Adam and Nate. We also played cards and enjoyed the typical high jinx and stories of good friends who know each other well. Indeed, this was the best part of the whole experience.

Besides the social part, I was just stoked to be in the backcountry again. Not only did this blog finally get some fresh content related to the original subject, but I felt a part of me come alive that has been dormant. I also had more strength and energy than I was expecting, especially coming from low altitude. As my health continues to improve, so does my energy. A month or so ago, upon a doctor’s advice I stopped taking a medication that affects aerobic output. For the first time in a few years, it felt like they took the governor off and I was back to normal, or at least close.

The last morning, I got up at 6 a.m. to ski one last lap. I couldn’t rouse any companions so it was just me and God and the mountains. On the low angle slope, the sun rose over the peaks and the silent snow. I wanted to sit there for a long time, but the cold and the reality of a plane to catch forced me to keep it brief. But I was thankful to God for such a great morning and the hope of more adventures soon.

Indeed, now that I have returned to the backcountry, I’m ready for more.

Soon. Very soon.

 

 

This is part of the low-angle glade we skiied. Much better than the photo looks!

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Five Years Strong in Utah’s Big Five

IMG_8194 To celebrate our five years of marriage, we felt it was time to do something big—not go to Africa big (though we hope to do that someday), but more than just the usual celebration. So, a week or so ago, we visited a couple of Utah’s Big Five national parks and a famous wilderness area for five days, sans kiddo (thanks Mom!).

This trip was a much-needed adventure binge, exploring new places together in 60-degree weather. Even more than the adventures, we wanted the trip to be about things that last. And it certainly was that. I continue to be amazed at just how much God cares about marriage—that he wants the way we love each other to reflect how Christ loves people.

Here’s a few highlights:

  1. Climbing sandstone on a sunny afternoon in Saint George. The rock type felt very similar to Red Rocks in Nevada, which is one of my favorite all time places to climb. The routes were so fun we couldn’t help shouting with delight with each sequence of moves
  2. Eating In-N-Out Burger two different times!
  3. Descending two very different canyoneering routes. One was a stunningly beautiful corridor of orange-hued heucos and chambers, while the second one was much more of a remote wilderness challenge that also included us getting our rope stuck on a rappel. It felt like an experiential learning activity at a marriage retreat, except with very real consequences. In the end, it proved a great experience we will remember!
  4. Exploring two national parks: Zion and Bryce Canyon. I had been to Zion briefly, but we saw much more of it. Bryce, with its hoodoo wonders, was awe inspiring. Wish we had more time here!
  5. Staying in a remote corner of the Escalante Wilderness and getting to hike a slot canyon there. The scariest part was driving the long 4WD road to get there, through lots of loose sand and big hills. Shhhh! Don’t tell the rental car company.

All in all, this was a very amazing trip. And, God willing, we hope to journey to Africa for our 10-year anniversary to see the real Big Five (again). Here’s to many more years together.

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An Autumn Revisited

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For the record, I do really like fall. A lot. Maybe a close second to summer. This autumn has been a great one for Elizabeth and I which is probably why I haven’t written in a while. Consider this a catch-up post!

Needles Trip

In late September/early October, we celebrated my birthday the way I’ve loved to in the past—by going climbing. This year we headed to the Needles in the Black Hills. The trip was quick, less than three days with travel, but we did manage to climb three spires, including Spire Two and Moonlight Rib. I think the Needles are my new favorite climbing area. As a bonus, on the way home we also hiked in Badlands National Park. What a great birthday getaway with my love.

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Naming it Remission

They included another story about me in the annual report for Avera, the center where I was treated at, called “Climbing the Spire of Hope,” which came out this fall. I loved the following line: “With his cancer in remission, the family is currently living life to the fullest.” You can see the full article here. While we have been calling my dramatic health reversal “remission” for quite some time—more than a half year now—it was nice to see the word in print, and have the status confirmed by one of my doctors.

New Ventures in Sioux Falls

My hometown has definitely changed a lot since I grew up here. Now a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities both national and international, the Sioux Falls area offers opportunities to help refugees living locally. Starting last spring, Elizabeth and I have made some new refugee friends and are enjoying getting to know them, attending their church and learning about their culture. We look forward to more ventures soon. And wow, the homemade bread from this people group melts in your mouth like freshly baked donuts.

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A Friend’s 40th Birthday 

At this stage in my life, a few friends have hit the BIG 4-0. I’m still a little shy of that number, but it encroaches on me like a bulbous NFL defensive lineman with bad breath. In late October, we (myself and 8 other dudes) celebrated my buddy Adam’s big day by rafting Westwater Canyon, an 18-mile stretch of class III and IV whitewater near the Colorado/Utah border.

With highs in the 60s and sunny, the trip was as pleasant as you can imagine. The best part, other than the stellar group of guys who attended, was how a big mistake made a good trip epic. Here’s the story.

I apparently remembered the name of our campsite incorrectly. So when we arrived there only to see a sign calling it something else, we decided to press on and run the rapids, rather than risk poaching a site not our own. I wondered if we had made a terrible mistake, but soon we saw the bright side of our predicament: we could run Westwater twice. Which is a big deal because the permits are not always easy to get.

So that’s exactly what we did. We ran all 18 miles both days—getting to see the canyon and rapids not once, but twice. This was my fifth and sixth trip down Westwater respectively, but I will never forget this trip!

Oh, and if you go, make sure you lock in your campsite with laser precision.

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Home Improvement Ventures

This fall we have tried to make headway on some house projects. We painted our bathroom and finished part of our bedroom. A buddy also helped me custom make an egress window cover (he actually did it all while I just watched). But the project I’m most proud of is revamping our fireplace. We yanked out the ugly insert and replaced it with a gas log, thanks to some assistance from a local expert to re-install a damper in our chimney. Viola! The magical ambience of a 1940s house that was hiding from our living room. Bring on the gray days…it will always be warm and cheery in the Lawrence house.

Next project: revamping the green house.

All in all, it’s been a great fall. So, make some more cider and maybe carve that leftover pumpkin. But don’t expect me to rake any more leaves. I’m done 🙂

 

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Wishing for an Endless Summer

auto-2583303_1920I always struggle with this time of year, when summer winds down and fall appears like an invited guest at your party. You’d love to ask him to leave, but instead endure to avoid a ruckus. But then, before you know it, he keeps showing up at other gatherings, horning in on your circle. Soon, like it or not, your social reality has changed and the intruder is here to stay!

Indeed, I’ve noticed that the temperature highs have noticeably dropped the past several days. But just a week or so ago, the temps were a scorching 95 degrees while I helped lead a rafting trip with Lifelines on the Upper Colorado River! Most of the rest of the days were in the 80s. Yet, I noticed the nightly lows kept creeping lower and lower.

When Elizabeth and I returned to our house in Sioux Falls this past weekend, several red maple leaves carpeted our lawn forebodingly. Elizabeth thought they were pretty, but to me this unwelcome reminder was as unsightly as dog turd piles left on the boulevard by negligent neighbors.

Bottom line is I wish I could make this summer last longer. If I had the time and means, maybe I’d even chase it around the globe like the old surfing movie Endless Summer, where they do just that.

IMG_7043I’m having a hard time letting summer 2017 go because it was so refreshing and restorative for Elizabeth and I. We returned to normal life by attending a summer mission in Crested Butte, re-engaging with Lifelines ministry along with seeing many of our friends in Colorado. We also enjoyed lots of outdoor adventure, for work and for play. I’ve been preoccupied with living and not writing, hence my absence from this blog.

The past several months certainly have been restful. When I was tempted to be anxious, God brought me a fitting verse: “Be at rest once more, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you (Psalm 116:7).”

The Psalm is about a king delivered from death, and while I’m not exactly royalty, there is a lot in the text that I resonate with. I understand what it is like to have life threatened and then to see the Lord return it so swiftly and powerfully. As verses 8 and 9 say:

“For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”

Even more than just a passing sentiment, the passage has served as a powerful reminder to be at rest. And so, I’ve tried to live that and let this summer be carefree. Though, a scan at the end of August certainly threatened my restful vibe. In the days leading up to it, we were suddenly on edge again. But true to what the Lord has been doing, the scan was again clear and our rest resumed. I will still have these scans every four months or so for the foreseeable future, but I’m hoping eventually even they will taper off. Indeed, my health continues to improve as my strength and energy return and grow. Going to Colorado was a good test, as lugging 100-pound rafts in 90-degree heat tests anyone’s stamina.

Another reason we were in Colorado was so I could take a recertification exam with the American Mountain Guide Association, allowing me to lead rock climbing trips again (more on this in a future post). We also got to see some friends from Salt Lake City over my birthday and take our daughter on her first camping adventure (this, too, deserves a post).

For now, we are grateful to be back in Sioux Falls, though I’m still wrestling with the season change.

I like fall, but it’s what’s around the corner that concerns me. Winter is always a tough transition, with all the short days and cold nights. Even though backcountry skiing is my favorite sport I still struggle. And let me tell you—the days seem much colder and grayer the farther one lives from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado!

Fortunately, I have an ace up my sleeve this year. When we were in Colorado Springs, I bought a downhill ski set up for my two-year-old daughter. They brought out the smallest set up they could find—the 60 cm skis come up to my knees and the boots are about as big as pint glasses. I am stoked, and so is my daughter. She immediately sat down on them and said, “Pippa wants to surf!” Close enough. We now live just 10 minutes from a ski area that is a perfect place for kids to learn! Should be a fun daddy-daughter adventure.

When it comes down to it, I guess there are things I’m looking forward to with the change of season. But this was a good summer—an epic one, in fact. And I think it’s only right to ponder and savor that before moving ahead. Here’s to summer 2017 🙂

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Here’s a little preview of things to come…

An Epic Doctor Visit

 

IMG_7011I wish all my doctor visits were this pleasant.

A few days ago, my buddy Dave and I rode Doctor Park, a classic mountain biking trail near Crested Butte, Colorado.

This summer I have ridden several trails in the area, but before leaving the Butte, I wanted to do something epic—a challenging adventure that would stick in my memory.

Originally we wanted to ride the 401, but by July there were still snowdrifts up to 20 feet high in sections. So we headed to the Doctor. With 20 miles total and a blue/black rating, the good Doc seemed to fit my “epic” expectations. MTB Project calls it the #16 trail in Colorado.

Oh, and I’ve searched and searched about the origins of the name, but all I’ve come up with is that the locals named it that because it’s so fun that “it cures whatever is ailing you.” This would soon make sense.

We started the ride with a frigid knee-deep stream crossing. At just after 9 a.m., the water felt invigorating as we waded downstream from a pair of fly fishermen. We bypassed most of the monotonous road climb, thanks to a shuttle from my lovely wife. So we started right in the thick of the uphill jeep trail.

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Then it was time to foot the bill, because no doctor visit is cheap. The next two miles were steady climbing, probably about 2,000 vertical feet total. Our sweat equity eventually rewarded us with nearly six miles of pristine downhill single track through the trees, with only about 50 vertical feet uphill from there on out. Yes!

The trail gets quite rocky and technical in sections at the beginning and end, but a cruiser three miles in the middle keeps it enjoyable. Flying through Aspen trees on the smooth single track, I felt joy—pure joy. I prayed several times, thanking God for the experience. I enjoy many outdoor sports, but on this day I was especially loving mountain biking.

What made the day that much more fun was riding with Dave, a good adventure buddy of mine who is always up for something. He’s as tough as a mountain goat and super outdoor-savvy. On past summers, we’ve always seemed to find a way to squeeze in a great climb, or some type of singletrack shenanigan.

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Our ride finished with several hairy sections. I think the writer from mtbhome.com nailed it: “exposure, switchbacks and off-camber rocks and cinder blocks that make it feel like you’ll fall off the world if you make a mistake.” We were not ashamed to walk around some of those sections. There is at least one where a boulder completely blocks a trail. Unless you have mastered the art of levitaton, it’s hard to call that spot rideable.

This ride was a great wrap up to a stellar summer. Being around good friends, and re-engaging with work that we are passionate about brought a huge lift to our souls—effects that we will feel for weeks to come. It was hard to pack up our truck and leave the area a few days later, but Elizabeth and I were so grateful for the experience. We may even be back to the Butte again next year. This was my third summer in CB.

And if we do return, you can be sure I will make a follow up appointment with the good Doctor soon—very soon.

 

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P.S. Here’s some more great footage of Doctor Park. Though, it’s not of Dave and I (probably pro riders). Some day maybe.

 

My Daddy Day Care Experiment

IMG_6853“Mama?” my daughter asked me as I began reading one her favorite books aloud. “Mama?”

I tried to change the subject. Only a few hours into Kid Duty, or as I like to call it, My Daddy Day Care Experiment, I was not about to meet this crux issue head on.

Fortunately, she dropped it as we kept reading story books.

Elizabeth was on a backpacking trip with college students in the West Elk Mountains for three days while my job was to watch Pippa—which would be the longest stretch I’ve ever done solo.

I was bummed not to go backpacking; this was the first Lifelines one I’ve ever missed in Crested Butte. Then again, we needed a female staff member on the trip, and we couldn’t find a babysitter anyway. So, Elizabeth went. And honestly, I wanted to spend the time with my daughter.

Recently she turned two years old. Over the past year or so, there were some times I have felt rather absent from her life—not by choice, but because of a grueling season of treatment where I was often sick or recovering from being sick. Even when I was there, I wasn’t always there, so to speak. She has grown increasingly mommy-centric the past several months, as most kids do, but I think in a way we both needed this time together.

More than just wanting time with her for myself, I also believe her having a close relationship with me is good for her in the long run. All kids need a strong bond with both mom and dad. I want Pippa to be confident and secure, to have a strong relationship with her dad, to know much I love her. I want her to face the world leaning into life, rather than tentatively away from it. Facing challenges with courage, rather than shrinking back.

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So, onward with the Daddy Day Care Experiment. I had to wonder, how would I keep her occupied for 72 hours? How will I keep her from the inevitable sorrow of missing mommy? I formed a rough plan, but knew flexibility would be key. I also vowed to keep my iPhone away in my pocket when she was awake, which I did for most of the time.

The first morning when Elizabeth took off, Pippa woke wailing because of a cold. Not a great start, but a little children’s Tylenol and we were off and running.

For some reason, Pippa is obsessed with “riding the school bus,” as she calls the free shuttle bus here in Crested Butte. She keeps shouting and shouting as soon as she sees it. So, later that morning, we walked onto one of the colorful buses, which are painted by local artists. Then we went to the library, and picked up a bunch of new books. Considering we read her about 10 stories a day, we always need new material.

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For lunch, I brought the big guns: Mac-a-doodle (Annie’s mac and cheese), her favorite meal. I kept some in reserve for later just in case.

The rest of the day went well, including naps and putting her down for bed. But for some reason I didn’t sleep well, maybe fighting off the same cold? The next morning was rough when I heard crying at a little after 6 a.m.

Of course, the days renewed my appreciation for all that Elizabeth does. How could it not? I’m familiar with the routine, as I try to help here and there each day. But it’s another thing to take on the entire responsibility. Way to go moms! Props. As hard as it can be, I can see that it is also extremely rewarding, as the logged time helps bring a deeper closeness.

The next day, we went to the Trailhead Children’s Museum, and then back to the routine: lunch, nap, etc. Later, we rode the bus into town (again) and ate at Teocali Tamale. Pippa had extra guacamole, as usual. One highlight of walking around town was her insatiable desire to find dogs to pet. “Pet the doggie! Pet the doggie!” The first dog we encountered seemed unfriendly, so we found a Golden Doodle, who was very sweet. Dogs and kids are the ultimate ice breaker. Soon we were hanging out with a family from Grand Junction who was dining outside at a table. I’m certain they were about to invite us to sit down, but I soon excused us.

The highlight of the Experiment came on the morning of day three: a chairlift ride up Mount Crested Butte! Pippa seemed quite content to be sitting in my lap as we whizzed up the mountain on a high-speed quad. All the colors of wildflowers like Lupine and Columbine burst forth like a kaleidoscope. And I kept pointing things out to Pippa. “See all these things? God is the King of Creation.”

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Pippa seemed to love the wind in her hair. She was rather quiet, not from fear, but more taking it all in. I can always tell how she is doing in these moments because I just ask her.

“Pippa happy?” I ask.
“Pippa happy” she replies, whispering.

When she is not happy, she usually lets you know. Or just says nothing at all.

Once we got down from the mountain, we went for one more school bus ride, this time riding the whole town circuit.

All in all, the experiment was a smashing success. I could see a closeness develop with Pippa that I have not yet had. I felt like we turned a corner. As I was reading her a third book, story time digressed into a bout of, “tickle the Pippa.” Which also led to more hugs. Ahhhhhhhh.

It seems I must look for another opportunity to run this experiment again.

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Living Elevated: A Return to a More Normal Summer

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This is already shaping up to be a very different summer.

For the past few weeks, my family and I, have been living and working in Crested Butte, Colorado, a small mountain town about four hours southwest of Denver. We are here for approximately a month and a half, though the weeks keep flying by.

Working with familiar Lifelines friends and new college student friends from around the country, our days and hours have been filled with community building, service opportunities and various outdoor adventures (some indoor ones, too).

This is my fifth summer of this kind, and I have always enjoyed the location—the quintessential mountain town is surrounded by Switzerland-style peaks, and is carpeted with wildflowers in the prime of summer. I have a lot of history with this place, from ski vacations with my family, to attending college here for a year—even a skimo race a few years ago.

In many ways, my life feels much more normal this summer, especially compared to 2016. As I gaze out my condo balcony at Redstone Peak, standing stately and silent with its jagged flanks and a snow-filled bowl, it’s hard to believe that any of the past year actually happened.

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A view from our condo for the summer.

I feel happy just being here again, but little things like adjusting to the altitude is always a rude awakening. I’ve often come into these summers in peak condition, but this year probably the opposite. The trails right outside our door come with the stiff penalty of lung and sweat equity, but I still can’t help playing in them. It doesn’t help that the preventive drugs I’m on restrict my aerobic capacity.

I was reading an article lately about just how long altitude acclimitization takes, and something stood out: for competitive athletes in places this high, it can take up to a full year of acclimatization to perform at peak level.  I get that it takes time to adjust to altitude, but a full year? That was surprising. I know from experience you can trick your body temporarily with hiking peaks but eventually the altitude wears you down.

The same article mentioned how cross country runners from Western State College in Gunnison (just 28 miles south of here), mandatorily redshirt first year runners to allow  time for this adjustment. And wisely so. My sister-in-law, who ran for WSC, can attest to just how hard it is to compete at this altitude.

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Which gets me thinking, after the hell of my last year, I can trick myself into coming here and acting “normal,” but as I enter back into life, it is going to take a lot more than one good summer—or even 5 weeks for that matter—for me to feel good again. And even if I do find that normal again, it will most likely be a new normal. There’s a bit of reality for me to swallow.

Yet this dose of truth doesn’t take away from the fact that I am loving being here. The sunshine, the mountains, familiar friends and work in a familiar place, and especially an ever-present God who is with me. The following Scripture has been especially meaningful: “Return to rest, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you (Psalm 116:7 NIV).”

Indeed, this has been true for me. I am looking forward to the next several weeks in Crested Butte with my family as we enjoy this beautifully elevated place.

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Summer is a great time for exploration. Case in point: our daughter’s first snow cone.

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Part two of our daughter’s trying new things.

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I’ve enjoyed several mountain bike outings, including this old CB classic, Snodgrass.

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Riding the Road of Survivorship

pexels-photo-30127Potential killers lurked everywhere as I cycled along the sidewalk—not the road this time. I grew increasingly leery of the cars zooming along the street, fearing they may veer right for me, especially when crossing streets. It seems that lately at least one SUV driver wants to kill me!

The past few weeks I have been doing a fair amount of road biking again, though short and slow and more so on the Sioux Falls bike trails than the actual road. My rib pain has eased considerably, but then it seems my mind is not quite right.

Before the incident—now three weeks ago—I considered every driver innocent until proven guilty. Now it’s reversed: they are guilty until proven innocent, a whole city full of careless lane hogs who text and drive, drink and drive, and who knows what else!

Maybe I’m dealing with some residual hit-and-run PTSD? Perhaps. I’ll admit, a few times I have driven through neighborhoods around the crash site looking for the runaway vehicle. I’ve also pursued at least one SUV that looked like the assailant. I flipped a U-turn and chased them for a few miles, only to discover it wasn’t even the right type of vehicle. I was kind of like a bull seeing red—the color instantly enflamed my anger as I charged with horns ready!

I haven’t been enjoying biking much until I get on the trails. Which is so not road biking—it’s just part of the sport that you grow comfortable being a few inches from traffic, riding in the actual road. Not for me right now, thanks. I like mountain biking better anyway.

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Fear has a way of changing you…I’ve had it with previous misadventures: a bad fall while rock climbing or swimming out of my kayak in rapids have left me anxious about getting back in the harness or boat. There’s more lasting scars then just bumps and bruises. These situations alter my confidence, and that can be difficult to shake off. Yes, a lot of it is in my head, but the mind is a powerful force.

I’ve met my residual PTSD from the bike incident head on lately, but beneath that layer is something much more deeply felt—dealing with survivorship. And by that, I mean I am wrestling with the challenges and blessings of being a cancer survivor. And it is much more significant than a close call on a bike.

They say that “death is the smelling salts of life.” I think that is true for anyone who has gone through a near-death experience. And with cancer, especially an “incurable” type, it wasn’t just one scary afternoon where I feared death because of unexpected circumstances. I’ve now lived for over a year, in fact, with that shadow hanging over me. And in some ways, the fear still lingers.

Of course, the fear of the return of cancer is something survivors often deal with—and this a very real and pervasive fear for me too. Lately, that fear hasn’t been as overwhelming, especially because a few realities have helped yank me back to the land of the living: God’s miraculous provision of our house, skiing four days this winter and of course, continued clear scans and good reports. Returning to full time work has also helped—we will soon be working with Lifelines in Colorado for several weeks this summer.

Then again, as I have entered this new era, the era of my survivorship, there are more challenges that come with it. First, though a big part of my treatment is over, I still have some ongoing treatment (Immunotherapy and a daily pill). And even more than that, I have begun to feel some side effects that I did not previously experience. I started having foot pain and numbness late fall 2016, but it has grown much worse, especially in the past month or so.

That has been rather unexpected, as it seemed most of the side effects had come or gone by now. This numbness and pain is the result of neuropathy, or damaged nerves from chemo. This is apparently common and can affect people on varying levels. The silver lining is that nerves are apparently resilient, but it will take time to heal—not just weeks, but months. And possibly not even just months, but years. Yikes.

This is a profound bummer as I was looking forward to a swift return to a lot of activities. I can still do some of them, like skiing, short hikes, easy climbs and biking, but it looks like running, high level climbing and probably backcountry skiing must wait.

The Lord has reassured me to be patient, something I will have no choice but to keep growing in.

But honestly, beyond foot problems there is much more. I’m still processing it, but life feels somehow different, never to return quite the same. It feels my relationships have changed, my work has changed. My outlook has changed. I am still figuring out where to go from here, and there is a lot more under the surface that I just don’t understand yet. And maybe that is a lot of survivorship for me—feeling lost.

Sometimes I have tried to rehit the accelerator of my life—trying to return to a normal pace and get things done—but I find that even accomplishments or regaining moments of “normal” cannot erase the lostness I feel. That’s about the best way I can describe it.

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And so, yes, I am facing challenges from survivorship. But for me, the thing that has encouraged me is seeing the big picture. God has rescued me from stage IV incurable cancer—and there is not a day that goes by when I am not profoundly grateful to him for this. Somehow, in the craziness of those first few disorienting and fearful weeks, he led Elizabeth and I to Sioux Falls and to the treatment that proved so amazingly effective. Unofficially, I am cancer free. But then again, because of complexity and politics of medicine, most doctors would probably never say that “officially.” Blah blah blah. But that is essentially the story I am living.

And with that in mind, the problems of foot pain and numbness (God willing, temporary) are not that big of a deal when I consider the alternative story line—my life extinguishes quickly, Elizabeth loses her husband, Pippa loses her daddy.

But that is not what happened. I am so profoundly grateful. I cannot help but think of one of my favorite passages, from Psalm 103:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Surely God has done this for me. And so, I will continue to be grateful.

In fact, tomorrow Sunday, June 4, is National Cancer Survivors Day—a day that now has a lot of meaning for me. Honestly, I didn’t even know such a day existed, until I got a little card in the mail from my treatment center inviting me to a BBQ with fellow survivors. Apparently, the day is kind of a big deal, considering how far reaching the numbers are: currently there are more than 15 million cancer survivors living in the United States alone. And that number will rise exponentially in the next 10 years.

So, for those of you who have been affected by cancer, first hand or through a friend or family member, or even those who have lost loved ones from this terrible disease, I wish you well on this day of great significance. No doubt it has been a long road. I know a little  about this road, too.

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SUV Assassins and the Scan Collision

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Getting a cancer scan can be like an unexpected collision, two moving objects smashing together violently and suddenly. You settle back into life but the digital images and doctor’s prognosis quickly jolt you back to reality like a triple strength energy drink.

Which is why when I approached scan number six or seven recently (I’ve lost count), I didn’t need to experience a literal collision, too, in the same week. That just seemed redundant.

So, here’s the story.

I decided to go on an evening bike ride, a few days prior, to enjoy the cooler temps and work on my conditioning. I remarked over the weekend how great I had been feeling—other than some lingering foot pain and fatigue, my body felt as good as it has in more than a year.

So, I reached for my roadbike, and started riding. As I peddled on 26th Street in Sioux Falls near McKennan Park, a vehicle turned abruptly into the lane behind me, lurking like a great white shark in the wave of my periphery. Following road biking protocol, I stayed to right of the lane, nearing the curb. I waited for them to pass, but instead they veered right—right for me! The vehicle’s fender tagged my bike’s handlebar, sending me summersaulting , somehow not under the vehicle’s axle. A split second before hitting concrete I thought, “Wow, this is going to be bad.”

As I sat there in a heap, dazed and disoriented, the vehicle kept speeding away. Another car pulled over, and asked if I was ok. I said, “I think so,” but urged them to call the police.

A cop, firetruck and even an ambulance came within minutes—quite an impressive showing from our friendly Sioux Falls first responders! I was pretty scraped up, growing more sore by the minute but unsure if I broke anything. I declined a ride in the ambulance. Honestly, I was worried that the words “cancer patient” would keep me overnight at the hospital, and I’ve had my fill of that.

Witnesses described the vehicle as a late model Chevy Traverse, or maybe a Dodge Durango, maroon in color. Yet this SUV Assassin escaped, and the police said with so little to go on, they would probably never catch them.

As this reality sunk in, I reassessed the damage: an abrasion on my shoulder, scraped wrist and elbow, and a heck-of-a-lot-of rib pain. Fortunately, I barely hit my head, though my dented helmet was now destined for replacement. My bike was no longer rideable, which was a bummer.

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Old Red lives to fight another day.

The next morning, I was so sore I could hardly move. The silver lining was I am well stocked with prescription painkillers, so sleep wasn’t too much of a problem.

Besides lingering physical effects, there were also psychological. Having someone hit and run me was unsettling, unthinkable even. Who runs away after they have clearly hit someone? Especially a cancer patient? I’m guessing they had something to hide—texting and driving, drinking or maybe the police were already looking for them. Maybe all three.

I like to think it was a scared teenager, or maybe even a sweet old lady, blissfully unaware. But I wanted to tell them: “Ah, that bump you just heard and felt, that was no raccoon. That was person!”

This is how my already-crappy scan week started. I still had the actual scan a few days later. As you may guess, if I wrote this much about the bike hit and run, clearly the report was good? Indeed.

As the doctor surveyed the images, he said everything continues to look “stable.” While they can’t say this because I don’t fit the textbook, I believe God has me in remission, and has for several months now.

Honestly, I expected this news, as it seemed consistent with where the Lord seemed to be taking things. But one never quite fully knows until you get the official word, right?

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Elizabeth, Pippa and I wasted no time celebrating the good report, dining at our favorite local spot with my parents.

I will say this, getting the scan results quickly put my bike accident into perspective. It was more like a 3/10 on the scale of life trauma, compared to an “8” or “9” for stage IV cancer. It’s not that a hit and run isn’t traumatic, it all just depends on your scale.

So, what the heck was the bike collision all about? Honestly I have no idea. It was super random. I’m an experienced road biker, and have ridden a lot in urban settings, in places far more dangerous than Sioux Falls. In fact, I got into the sport when I lived in Florida, which is the most dangerous place to ride a bike in the U.S per governing.com. One of my buddies was hit and run twice there. South Dakota innocuously sits at number 38, with about 1/5 the accidents per capita compared to the Sunshine State.

However, my time in Florida was before the smartphone era. Today’s driver seems more distracted then ever. In my shock and anger, I wanted to generalize that people in South Dakota don’t watch for bicycles because it not as fitness minded as some states, but that was probably just residual PTSD talking.

One thing is for sure: coming back from cancer, only to be hit and killed on a bike seems like a lame ending to my story. So, I’m thankful that didn’t happen.

I’m also glad a quick doctor visit revealed that I did not break any bones. Shows me how far I’ve come, that my body is durable again after all the chemo. This pain is temporary, and will heal in a few more weeks. Hopefully even sooner.

All in all, I find the experience rather humbling and gratefulness-inducing. God has been so good to me and my family: the treatment he provided, our new house, not to mention my eternal redemption bought through Christ’s sacrifice. As Bill Murray said in the movie Caddyshack. “So, I got that going for me…which is nice.” As a believer, as one loved by God, I certainly have a lot going for me!

But maybe I was due for something unexplainable?I’m not sure. I don’t understand many of God’s ways, or why he allowed this crash, but I resolve to be content not knowing. I’ve reckoned much worse. The following verse seems appropriate: “God is in heavens and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:3b).

I don’t have to know or understand—just trust. So, on that note, I’ll take the good scan report and mostly-minor bike accident. These, too, were graces for me. Not to mention that the damage on my bike turned out to be minor—some scrapes and scratches, but a new tube and tires were all it took to make it usable again.

I think I’ll be even more thankful when my ribs stop aching.

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Some residual bruising on my left arm…

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South Dakota Locals, Colorado Commuters

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While the pumpkin pushers pounded the hardwood of the NCAA tourney, Elizabeth and I endured our own kind of March Madness, followed by an Angry April: packing, moving, packing and moving some more.

That’s right, we recently made the decision to move from Colorado to South Dakota. It proved a simultaneously difficult and easy decision. Difficult, because we love Colorado and had no intention of moving. Easy, because medically it makes sense that we live in Sioux Falls for the forseeable future. I’ll explain more later, but when we visited Colorado in March, we actually started the packing the process and then returned in early April to finish the deed.

Here’s the crazy part: we ended up buying a house in Sioux Falls from a distance while we were packing up our belongings in Longmont. No kidding. We consider this house a miraculous provision from God, and the timing of the purchase helped take the sting out of the move. Check out Elizabeth’s blog for the full story.

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So why did we move? As you may recall, I have been receiving experimental treatment that has given me amazing results in my cancer journey. Here is the crux (to borrow a climbing term): I cannot get the same treatment outside of Sioux Falls—maybe not even the rest of the United States, or the world for that matter.

Cancer treatment approval can be an extremely slow-moving and political machine—it takes an average of 17 years for a tested treatment to be approved by the FDA—and people like me simply cannot wait that long. Fortunately, there are people fighting for urgency within the machine, like my genomic oncologist, Dr. Leyland-Jones. If you have a second, you should watch this video about him. His research is changing the way people fight cancer, and God has used him immensely in my life.

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Pippa surveys our Crabapple Tree in front of our new house.

And so we are now officially Sioux Falls residents. I actually haven’t been one since shortly after college. We have plenty of reasons to be happy about being here—family, friends, a ski area 10 minutes from our house, to name a few. I would not say we love the long winters, but then as my dad would say, “the rocks come with the farm.”

Lest you think we won’t be seeing the mountains of Colorado anytime soon, in June we head there for six weeks to work on a Lifelines Summer Mission and attend part of the Cru conference in Fort Collins, along with a quick return trip in between for treatment. And even after that, we will have plenty of reasons to go there both personally and professionally.

And so we are embracing our status as South Dakota locals, and Colorado commuters.

Back to our moving madness, it was utterly brutal—brutal because I relearned just how difficult it is to try and get work done with a near-two-year-old and also because my energy has not returned to full capacity—and probably won’t for a long time. Most days I’m at 65-70 percent of my normal energy. With bad sleep, it can be even less.

I hit a breaking point at several different points on our moving day. One was when the transport truck company called me at 4:55 p.m. on a Friday afternoon (they were scheduled to ship it Monday morning) and said they couldn’t ship my Tacoma to South Dakota unless I paid double, even though we had a contract! The other happened because we underestimated the job—we thought we would finish by 2 p.m. but as the clock neared 7 p.m. we weren’t even close! Soon Pippa started wailing from being hangry—hungry and angry—meanwhile twirling a wet toilet bowl brush in her hands that we had failed to put out of reach. Yikes!

We somehow survived the chaos of that day, and those weeks. Seeing a lot of our friends helped buoy our spirits. In fact, one of those days I skied at Loveland Pass with a good buddy, and that was definitely a highlight. Yet, saying goodbye to our friends and Colorado was as mixed and bittersweet as you can imagine.

Logistically, the silver lining was we were able to schlep our stuff directly into our new house—it was already vacated and the sellers were willing to negotiate the closing date. This proved a huge blessing.

And so now we now live in our new home—new to us that is (actually built in 1940). Pippa loves to say the term, “new house.” And so do we.

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I’ve already been researching some local adventures in South Dakota. Palisades offers climbing a mere 25 minutes away, and the Needles is world class climbing in the Black Hills.

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Elizabeth and I spent a weekend climbing the Needles a few years ago including Tent Peg, but felt like we barely scratched the surface. We look forward to exploring there again soon!