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The Tour test of positivity

I didn’t mean to completely block the finish line by collapsing a mere two feet from it. When I finally dragged my tired and completely flooded body across the red line in the snow at the top of Alpe Cermis, my ski hit one of the pine boughs marking the finish, I tripped, and that was it. Once I was down I wouldn’t have been able to get up even if you were waving free tickets to Disneyland in front of my nose. 

Awesome photo reposted from Ragnhild Haga…sorry I was right in your way at the finish, girl!

I was so out of it that it took a good 30 seconds before I realized that the GPS pod in the back of my bib was digging into my spine. I treated it the same way I reacted to the spit I was sure I had all over my face: annoying, but still don’t care enough to do anything about it. A really deep sense of satisfaction started to soak in about the same time the snow melted into my suit; we had made it to the finish. We were done with the Tour. 

That is one tough climb. (photo by Nordic Focus)

Except, of course, for 90 minutes later, when I was trying to run alongside the boys to cheer, wheezing and coughing and shamelessly using the boys tall spare poles to push myself up the slope. 

Counting on a little extra sparkle power to get me through! (photo by Jesse Vaananen)

This was my 8th Tour de Ski, my 7th time completing the whole circus (I got sick one year partway through). That either makes me crazy and brave, or crazy and stupid. I’m still not sure which one it is. I feel like every time I do the tour, it teaches me something. How to deal with pressure, how to keep the focus going day after day, how to be smart about recovery, how to be more resilient. This year, I think it taught me how to hang tough after disappointments and be a better person. I have never been more proud of my team than after this tour.

An exciting shot of a scary little moment during stage 6’s sprint! (photo by Jesse Vaananen)

As I learned from racing Period 1 of the World Cup, nothing is hard when it’s all going right. When your fitness, your body, your skis and your wax are all in a great place, you race absolutely as hard as you can…and sometimes, you get to step onto the podium. It’s not hard to be happy, to be positive, to smile. But when you race as hard as you can and your skis aren’t competitive, you’re injured or a crash takes you out, it is the hardest thing in the world to be positive after the race. That’s where the true test of mental toughness lies; what do you do when you’ve given it everything you have, and it doesn’t work out the way you know it could have? Do you throw a fit at the finish line? Do you smash your poles into the fence? Do you yell at the coaches and techs? Or do you straighten your spine, hold your head high and remind yourself that if you did everything you could as well as you were able, you should still be proud of yourself and the effort you gave? 

Sadie and I working together during stage 4, a tough day for our team. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Taking a moment to catch my breath after getting up from the snow (photo by Nordic Focus)

I want to be the racer that’s still fun to hang around after it all goes wrong. What you act like after a tough day says a lot about who you are…but the best part is that it’s completely within your control. It’s something I’m always working on. It’s easier said than done, and I’m the first to say that I haven’t always been proud of how I reacted after a disappointment. But one of the benefits of getting older and having done hundreds of races is that you’re more easily able to put it all into perspective, and remember that how you carry yourself after a bad day speaks to your character more than how you smile after a good day. 

At least I have photographic proof that I pretend to drive invisible cars around corners! (photo by Nordic Focus)

So no, this tour wasn’t even close to what I had dreamed of, what I had trained for, or what my team and I know that I’m capable of. But I earned the right to be proud of myself for how I stayed positive, gave it my all day after day, turning myself inside out pushing hard for the finish line even when I had no kick wax or when I was getting passed right and left. It’s not a secret that we struggled on a few stages with having competitive skis this tour, but it wasn’t for lack of effort, and in truth that’s just part of this sport. It’s never fair. Someone always has the best skis, someone has the worst, and you have to accept the fact that the playing field will not be equal. But that’s never an excuse to give up or stop trying.

Sending it! (photo by Nordic Focus)

We missed the wax outright in the first stage in Lenzerheide, and it was a tough day for the team. But when we got to the wax truck, there was no yelling, no tears, no accusations. I told the techs that I believed in them and I knew they would nail the wax the next day. Because here’s the thing: I know that they are always giving their best effort, and I know how hard they’re working. And I have no idea how to wax skis. There is a 0% chance that I would have done a better job, and a 100% chance that I would have messed it up were it me in that truck. How could you be mad at someone for giving it their best shot, especially when you couldn’t do it yourself?

Gutting it out with all my energy in Stage 1 (photo by Nordic Focus)

And you know what? The next day, the techs totally nailed it, we had a great qualifier for the sprint as a team, and Sadie and I both made the finals. It was a sign that our fitness was there, and we had to trust that our training had worked.

Hammering the sprint qualifier in Lenzerheide. (photo by Nordic Focus)

For me, the tour was a test of positive energy and a can-do mindset, looking for every chance to keep pushing my body as hard as I could to regain lost time after a few tough days interspersed through the tour. I was more proud of how I hung tough than the podium I snagged on stage 6, although that was also an extremely fun day! All that belief and trust in my fitness paid off, for when I had the great skis to match, I knew I could hang in there and ski a great race.

Just enjoying the moment. (photo by Jesse Vaananen)
Apparently, I make weird faces? (photo by Nordic Focus)

We had a really awesome crew doing the whole tour this year, and it made me excited for years to come. It was so fun to see Rosie and Sadie have new TDS personal best finishes, to see KO crush her first ever tour, and to see David and Logan rocking the men’s side and mixing it up.

Our TDS finishers, left to right: David Norris, Katharine Ogden, Rosie Brennan, Sadie Bjornsen, Logan Hanneman and me!
Sadie and I trying to rest and stay warm before the sprint heats on stage 6 (photo from Matt)

The tour takes so much from you; your energy, your mental toughness…your sanity. But it gives you so much in return. A confidence boost, a fitness boost, a renewed excitement for ski racing. All that said, as much as I adore the adrenaline rush of the Tour, it’s equally important to find a way to shut it off and reset in the weeks afterwards.

Wade and I skied up to an Alm and got apple strudel and hot chocolate!

Heading to Ramsau for a week of nice relaxing skiing in the sunshine, sledding at night and eating strudel after skiing up to the Alm would sound amazing no matter what, but getting to have my boyfriend Wade there made it the happiest week I’ve had in a long time. 

Amazing views from pretty much every part of the ski trails.
After taking the cable car to the top of the Dachstein Glacier, we hiked around a little bit, enjoyed the views, and got lunch in a cool little hut!
Not bad, huh?
We were in awe of how beautiful it was – in every direction!

Now we’re headed to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, to get back into the World Cup racing scene with a two-day pursuit weekend. Saturday will be a 10km skate followed by a 10km classic pursuit-start race on Sunday, and I’m happy to say that after a refreshing break I’m once again excited to pull a bib on! 

If you didn’t go to Stillwater High School, this shirt won’t make sense.

The TDS, explained in GIFs

Here we go, you guys. On the eve of the Tour de Ski 2019-20, I’ve put together a ridiculous interpretation comprehensive guide to life inside the Tour de Ski. It’s a wild ride, but it’s also my favorite event of the whole year because of it’s non-stop energy!

When you’re not pumped about leaving Christmas behind.

I had a really incredible week with my family over the Holiday break. It was our first Christmas together in 5 years, and although it flew by, we had an amazing time skiing together, sledding, baking cookies and just enjoying each other’s company.

Family ski up Sertig valley!
The tiniest of gingerbread houses!

But now, it’s time for that thrill ride of a race series…the Tour! I’ll let the photos/gifs do most of the talking.

Fuel is important (always), but especially when you have 7 races in 9 days. Eat up, kids.
When you’re trying to look cool at opening ceremonies.
When you’re trying to get to sleep the night before the first race…but you’re kind of excited.
When you have a good race

The cool thing about the TDS is that whether you had the race you dreamed of or not…you have to get over it and get ready for the next day! And you still get the fun fans yelling and clanging cowbells whether you’re first or last.

When Dario’s fan club comes in with the giant cowbells

Right after the first weekend of races, we pack up and drive to the next venue. The travel between races is almost harder than the races themselves…depending on how many times the vans have to stop.

This always happens between Toblach and Val di Fiemme. It’s not THAT short of a drive, people!

Inevitably, there will be strange weather. Roll with it (or slide with it, depending on what it is).

When the course ices up overnight…and there’s nothing you can do about it.
…and then when it inevitably starts snowing 5 minutes before the start of the classic race.

Remember what I said about getting over your race result, whether it was good or bad? I lied. Definitely take the 10 minutes to celebrate any team podiums that come along. And definitely let the techs take a cut of the massive podium cheese.

When someone scores some podium cheese and JP breaks out his hidden fondue set.

The second travel day this year is from Toblach to Val di Fiemme. It’s sometimes a fun race to see what countries get out the door first.

Wheels up.

As the techs know, your technique isn’t always it’s finest when you’re getting deliriously tired. Sometimes they have to adjust the skis accordingly.

Your wax tech’s reaction when you keep asking for more kick wax as you get more and more tired.

And finally, the worst best part, the totally strange yet epic final climb up Alpe Cermis.

What I think I look like during the final climb.
…and what I ACTUALLY look like. Rare footage of me coming to the finish line of Alpe Cermis (yes, I am a sloth in this moment).

Watch out for the energy crash post-tour! It always comes when you’re least expecting it.

When you find out it’s a 5 course meal and you aren’t going to make it

Wish us luck!

Race-day braids and Relay socks

This has been, without a doubt, the most exciting Period 1 of World Cup that I’ve ever had! It’s had it’s little ups and downs in the weeks between the races, but it’s been so much fun being part of a team that’s killing it both on the race course and off. And it’s hard to believe that we’ve been over here for a whole month already! 

Keeping the Beito plant baby alive…even on a 16 hour travel day from Ruka to Lillehammer! (photo from Sophie)

We arrived in Lillehammer after some delays and extra flights. Honestly, I was relieved that I’d managed to not kill my little plant that I’ve been traveling with since Beitostølen. Curiously enough, no eyebrows were raised in customs each time I marched through the airport clutching this bundle of little white flowers and green leaves…but the flight attendants seemed to really love it. 

Psyched about the snow in Lillehammer! (photo from Cork)

We like to make sure we have fun team things to do that have nothing to do with skiing. So mid-week we secured a meeting room in the huge hotel and had our “joy of painting with Bob Ross” night! As a bonus, we ended up with sweet hotel room decorations to make us feel less like we’re on the road. Or maybe I was the only one who saved mine? I hope not!

Sophie, Rosie and the team working on their Bob Ross scenery!
Techs JP, Tim and Oleg (can you spot the wax truck making an appearance?)
My “happy little trees”

When it came time to race, I was excited more than nervous, and in a really happy place. I hadn’t done a Skiathlon in quite some time, and it’s such a cool race format with the exchange from classic to skate mid-race. It’s different than our usual sprint-and-10km weekends, which was also a great change of pace.

Sophie, Julia and I toured the Swix factory!
Testing skis the day before the race weekend began! (photo by Nordic Focus)
Sadie, Rosie F, Rosie B and I talking over the race prep plan. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Testing skis with Cork…and getting a tan? (photo by Nordic Focus)

The classic skiing in Lillehammer was maybe as good as it’s ever been, and as I was racing I had a sudden burst of confidence in knowing that I could get up the long grinder of a climb without wasting energy at all. With Therese out in front with a gap, I started to push the pace, and after the exchange it was just me and Heidi rounding out the podium. We exchanged leads, pushing each other to race faster and create a sizable gap.

Starting to push the pace a little (photo by Nordic Focus)
Lillehammer has some big climbs! (photo by Nordic Focus)

I love skiing with other racers who understand how changing leads and helping each other by leading where your strengths are can result in a much better race for both athletes. And we did just that! By the time we were about 1.5km from the finish, I felt like I had just a little energy left in the tank, and pushed really hard over the last pitch of the long climb, getting a little gap. Because I always work my way into the season, coming into the finishing lanes in Lillehammer in second place felt like a big moment for me, and I soaked up every second of it, knowing that you can never take a podium for granted because you’ll never know what your body and your wax will be doing the next weekend! 

That “I need more air” face…(photo by Nordic Focus)
Smiling my way into the finish! I had so much joy in this moment, I couldn’t keep it inside. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Happy podium! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Then, of course, the 4x5km relay came around. You KNOW I had the socks and face paint all lined up and ready to go! Relays are such a special thing for our team, because it takes such all-out effort from so many different people to make it come together. As I was warming up and keeping an eye on the jumbotron showing the race, I was so proud of Sophie, Sadie and Rosie for their fighting spirit and was inspired to follow up their efforts with everything I had. 

Cork had the skis dialed in! And special thanks to the Salomon reps for their awesome help in testing. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Pre-race rituals…(photo by Nordic Focus)

I’ve been anchoring the US Women’s 4×5 since I was 19 years old. I’ve seen every manner of race play out before me, and had the entire range of race experiences in this one race format alone! But every single time, crossing the finish line and hugging it out with my teammates – whether it was our best day or our worst – is the single best feeling in ski racing that there is. When I crossed the finish line in Lillehammer, I plowed right into the group hug (and managed to slobber all over Sophie’s jacket). It was the second time in history that we’d finished 2nd in the relay, and we enjoyed that special moment together!

The relay team of Sophie leg 1, Sadie leg 2, Rosie leg 3 and me in leg 4! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Maybe it was too good to be true, because the next morning I woke up with the start of a cold. By the time we got to Davos and I put myself to bed, I had a little fever and chills, couldn’t breathe out of my nose, and was completely miserable. But I went through 3 boxes of tissues, drank about 20 cups of tea with honey per day, got some sunshine on the deck, and read 2.5 books over the next few days. I walked around on my skis to get some fresh air, and did my best not to worry or think too much about the upcoming races. Stressing over an outcome I cannot change wasn’t going to help me get better faster! 

Travel days. It’s really all about the little things. (photo by Nordic Focus)

Luckily, I was feeling back to normal by Thursday night so I could join in the best night of the whole year…our annual team Secret Santa! It’s embarrassing to read a poem or sing a song about you in front of the team, but it also brings more laughs than the week put together and brings the team closer. I drew Coach Matt, and the poor guy had to sing, because of course we were going to make all our coaches sing in front of the team! Scott drew me (literally), making a really cool portrait. 

Hailey reading her poem that Matt wrote her (but she didn’t know it at the time). Cork is very embarrassed on behalf of everyone who had to perform.
My secret Santa portrait from Scott!

I also love being in Davos because we always stay in the Kulm hotel, and the ski trail goes right up to the hotel door! You can ski right down to the other end of town and up the different valleys, and take a bus back home if you really start making poor timing decisions. It’s always so easy to hop on a bus and go down to town to get a waffle and a coffee, and it’s Switzerland, so you KNOW they’re going to be running on time. 

Me, being very overwhelmed by the craziness of the testing zone on race prep day. (photo by Nordic Focus)

By Friday afternoon, I knew I was set on racing, and I felt healthy again, kicking the tail end of the cold out the door. The sprint on Saturday was nothing special for me in terms of results or what I knew my body was capable of, but coming off a cold, it felt like a gosh darn miracle! I was happy with my day and immediately started getting ready for the 10km skate the next day.

In the quarterfinals (photo by Nordic Focus)
The athlete tent was REALLY hot, so Simi and Kevin cooled their heads off while Matt gave some race advice. This is one of my favorite photos from period 1. Note: Coach Sverre Caldwell studying the heat sheet in the background!
Cheering on Julia in her heat while cooling down. (photo by Nordic Focus)

One thing I love about this team (ok, it’s like the 139th thing that I love, but let’s add it to the list) is that we make sure to celebrate every small victory along the way. It’s easy to get excited over podiums and wins and historical “first-ever”s, but those won’t last forever. If we forget to celebrate every step on the path to getting those breakthroughs, we are suddenly in danger of taking those moments for granted. So after every race we acknowledge every sort of victory out there, whether it was the techs nailing the wax in tough conditions, someone’s first points, first World Cup start, first time in the sprint semis, or first podium. 

Hailey scored her first ever World Cup points! And then we got to ski the first heat together. (photo by Nordic Focus)

And boy, did we ever have a lot to celebrate this weekend! Hailey Swirbul got her first World Cup points by making the sprint heats in Davos. We were in the first heat together, and it was fun to be part of something so special. It brought to mind the sprint in Quebec when Julia Kern made the heats for the first time, and I was also in her heat. I think I’m the luckiest old lady on the team ever, because I got to witness the excitement and look at their faces as they lined up to start the heats for the first time. You don’t get to see that kind of pure excitement, joy and inspiration every day! Then of course, seeing Sophie smoothly ski her way onto the podium was the incredibly satisfying and delicious icing on the cake. Rosie Frankowski also scored her first World Cup points the next day in the 10km skate, and we had 5 girls in the top 30 (myself, Sadie, Julia, Hailey and Rosie). The positive energy and confidence going through the entire team was a tangible thing! 

Charging down the finishing lanes. (photo by Nordic Focus)

As for my race, that 10km skate felt incredible. The course here in Davos is so tricky to pace, as it winds its way up the valley in one long grind where you are constantly working. Then it roars back down in a working downhill that never gives you as much rest as you think it should. But my body was rested, I executed my pacing strategy well, we had good skis and I fought my way to the podium again for my 3rd individual podium of the season! For a girl who loves high-speed sledding as much as I do, I was pretty stoked to get one of those cute mini-sled trophies in my hands. 

Leaving it all out there…or sliding into home base? You’ll never know. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Podium photo! Heidi, Therese and me. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Getting a hug from Coach Grover at the finish! (photo by Nordic Focus)
Ok, ok, our suits are cool…but check out those race day braids, am I right?!? (photo by Jesse Vaananen)

A special shoutout goes out to our new US Ski and Snowboard team partner, Land Rover. I’m one of their athletes, and Land Rover arranged for us to have a car over in Europe to help the team out with transportation! Not worrying about the snow coming down hard while driving to the race venue was a huge relief, and I’m extremely grateful for the added freedom of mobility while traveling on the road for 4 months! Because of course I would give cars names, we gave it some thought and dubbed the car “Discovery Dwight”. 

Welcoming Dwight to the family (photo by Logan Hanneman)

Now I’m staying here in Davos over the Holiday break, training and looking forward to spending some quality time with my family! My Mom, Dad and sister Mackenzie are all coming to spend a week with me, and I’m excited for some family skis, baking Christmas cookies, and decorating a tree together. 

Psyched up and ready for the Tour coming up next! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Bust out the Sparkles!

Before I get into the race tales, I have received a number of questions about my book, Brave Enough, so I thought I’d take the hottest of seconds to go through those. First of all, thank you all so much for the positive messages and excitement! After 18 months of hard work, I’m pretty over the moon about the book coming out for real on March 10th! 

Leo the handsome doggy is excited about the book, it seems!

A lot of you have asked about the best way to buy the book, and the answer is 1.) pre-order that cute little sucker! and 2.) if possible, order it from your local bookstore. The Indiebound and Barnes and Noble links on my website should take you right to where you can pre-order it. I’ve also gotten questions about how to get a signed copy, and the mnworldcup.com site has a tab under “Festival Information”, then “Merchandise” where you can purchase a special copy of my book. I signed a one-time run of special bookplates that commemorate the Minneapolis World Cup, and that’s a great way to get a limited-edition copy of the book if you’re into collecting things like I am! You can also get a giant cowbell on this same page, so really, it’s the whole package. 

Why do authors always ask you to pre-order their book? I always wondered this, and then I became one of those people asking you to pre-order their book. How cliché of me. Here’s why: if you like the author and want to support their book launch, then pre-ordering the book from your local bookstore or Indiebound lets stores know that you want this book, which results in them stocking the shelves, so more people see the book and pick it up. Pre-ordering also guarantees the lowest price, and you know that I know that you know you love a good bargain. 

Either way, the German Women’s Team coach and one of the Norwegian Women’s coaches told me they pre-ordered it…so my day has been made! Now, on to your regularly scheduled programming from the World Cup. 

Excited to be back on snow with Sadie and Rosie!
Reunited with our wax techs in the Oslo airport! JP enjoying some ramen.

The first week of being back on the the road for a 4-month stretch of World Cup races can be the most exciting, because it feels like the first day of school. You’re stoked to see all your friends from other countries and hear how they’re doing. You’re also not-so-secretly excited to see the good, the bad and the ugly evolution of each Nation’s race suit. The first week can also be the hardest, though, because you’re the most homesick and trying to adjust to being on the road again. 

A beautiful sunset over Beitostølen!
Skiing the tourist trails with Cork after ski testing!

Luckily for me, we got to stay in small apartments while in Beitostølen, which made a huge difference! Being able to hang out as a group on the couch instead of in your bed all day makes you feel more at home and less like a nomad. We marveled at all the glorious snow falling from the sky almost every day, we ate brown cheese, and we got caught up with friends. We each selected one or two races that first weekend to use as tune-up races, and it brought a huge smile to my face, getting to cheer as Sophie got 3rd place in the classic sprint! The next day, I placed 4th with Sadie 5th (we basically skied the exact same race!) in the 10km classic, and it felt good to put a bib on again and remember how to test skis before a race. Then we hopped on a bus ride, two plane flights and another long bus ride to get to the land of Reindeer and the snowy forests of Ruka, Finland.

Sadie and Rosie and “sunny”, the lamp that is supposed to help us get over the jet lag and dark mornings!
Totally pumped on all the fresh snow! (photo from Rosie Frankowski)
A typical roadside attraction on the drive to Ruka…

The first World Cup of the year is almost always a classic sprint race in Ruka. And by “almost always”, I mean that I’ve been starting the season with this race for the last 8 years! For 8 years, I’ve been working on improving my technique on the uniquely steep climbs that we’ve dubbed “the half pipe course”, and this year I feel I finally started to make that sought-after progress. I had the best sprint I’ve ever had, qualifying in 12th and being hundredths of a second from making the semifinals. 

Charging hard in the qualifier (photo by Nordic Focus)
Rounding the corner in our quarterfinal (photo by Nordic Focus)

The next day, the individual 10km classic race, wasn’t quite as sparkly, although I certainly pushed my body right to the limit that day. I was frustrated with how my body felt during the race, like I was pushing up against my top race gear, hammering on the door and trying to get in, and was simply unable to. This is the feeling athletes often refer to as “feeling flat”, and it’s honestly the same feeling you get when you’re next in line for the amusement park ride and they shut down the ride before you can get on. This analogy makes no sense if you’ve never experience heartbreak while waiting to get on the Spongebob Squarepants Roller Coaster at the Mall of America, but I have, so just go with me here. 

Striding it out in the 10km classic race (photo by Nordic Focus)
Maybe these “rocky mountain”, “true American tradition” marshmallows would have made me even faster? (photo from Sadie)

However, 20 minutes after the race, I had a larger self-pity problem going on, as my left hip had a rapidly blossoming inky black bruise and for some reason, I was unable to raise my left arm above my head. I had crashed on the far corner of the course, bounced right back up and kept hammering away during the race. I thought I’d gotten away with just a little “plonk” into the snow, but now that I couldn’t raise my left arm, I was re-thinking how I had fallen. 

Trying to catch my breath again after the race (photo by Nordic Focus)

It was the injury scare that I needed, whether or not it was the one I deserved. It knocked me into a better mental state. Suddenly, instead of wishing I could feel closer to sharp race fitness, I was simply wishing to be able to race the next day. Pete Dickinson, one of our volunteer PT’s, did a quick screen of my shoulder in the wax truck. He reassured me that my shoulder was ok; my muscles had just tightened up and were pinching together to try and protect my hyper-mobile joints after I’d apparently smashed them into the snow. 

As a racer, I sometimes have to issue an official apology to my body. This was one of those times. Luckily, my body was in a “forgive and forget” kind of mood, and other than a slightly sore hip, it didn’t hold a grudge. Within a few hours my shoulder had totally loosened up, and I was psyched to race the next day. 

The other thing that got me excited was seeing my teammates performing so gosh darn well! Sadie came in with a 3rd place in the classic sprint, then she got a 4th place in the 10km classic with Rosie coming in 6th! It’s so fun to see my teammates on fire because I know how hard they’ve worked for it, and it feels like seeing a family member accomplish a hard-earned goal.

Always lunging for the extra .01 of a second! (photo by Nordic Focus)
Sadie pretending to ride the ice sculpture fox in town 🙂

Without any pressure and with the only goal to chase down as many people in front of me as possible, I went out charging with everything I had. I ended up having my best ever day in Ruka with the 3rd fastest time of day in the 10km skate pursuit. It was a sneaky podium that FIS counts on your profile, just without the flower ceremony and giant wedge of cheese! Apologies to our wax tech JP and his fondue set that is waiting underneath the wax bench in the truck. With or without the pomp and circumstance, I felt equally proud of my effort and the team effort behind the race that it took to get such awesome skis gliding in that cold, compact snow! I felt one giant step closer towards that feeling of unlocking my top race gear, which is exactly where I want to be this early in the season.

Hammering up the big hill with Frida and Tiril (photo by Nordic Focus)

I went out charging with everything I had

Exhausted after the all-out efforts, but proud of them as well! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Our next stop is in Lillehammer, and I’m not sure what I’m more excited to see…the Christmas lights all down main street, or the 10 different varieties of brown cheese in the grocery store! 

I wrote a book!

I am so excited to finally “officially” share some really big news…I wrote a book, called Brave Enough! And my website got a much needed update! And…I’m currently in Beitostølen, Norway, skiing in a winter wonderland, so life is good all the way around. 

My book cover!
Our “morning commute” from the apartment to the wax truck in Beitostølen

The website update seemed obvious, and a huge thanks to Doug DeBold and Zach McGill for their awesome work!

But why would you write a book, Jessie? (I asked myself this many times, especially around the 200 hour mark of working on it). Weeks after the Olympics, I was approached about writing a book. I thought “eh, that’s cool…but seems like a lot of work. No way, dude.” 

Then I did the ESPN body issue shoot, and decided to share more of my history with an eating disorder. And the weirdest thing happened. The more I talked about the hard parts of my past that I thought people might judge me for, the more human and relatable I became to young skiers. The more I talked about my eating disorder, the more I heard from skiers, coaches and parents saying that it helped them open up a positive conversation with the people in their life. I started working with the Emily Program as a spokesperson. I started to hear from college teams that were initiating constructive team building talks around body positivity. And I realized that part of the book I’d maybe write some day needed to include the full, nothing-held-back story of how I got into my eating disorder, and more importantly…how I got out of it. 

Hoping to inspire the next generation by keeping it real (and sparkly). (Photo by Loren Johnson)

I figured the world didn’t need another glamorous, unobtainable sports book, but maybe I could help some people by sharing both the best and worst parts of my life in the most unfiltered way I could think of. And, in a very important detail, I learned that I could partner with an author who (wait for it…) actually knows something about writing books, so I wouldn’t be winging it on my own, wandering in circles! Imagine my relief! I decided to go for it. If this book makes at least one person feel inspired, or laugh, or get pumped up to get out the door and go skiing, it will have been well worth the journey. Either way, I had a lot of fun writing it with my co-author, Todd, because like anything memorable I’ve ever done in life, I didn’t do it alone.

This isn’t a book to make me look good, and in fact some parts were incredibly hard to write. But some chapters were easy to write, with the fun twists and turns and ridiculous moments that seem to happen every year on the World Cup. 

Sharing not only the beautiful, glamorous moments…(but I hope my technique has improved some from 7th grade!)

My hope for you, if you choose to read the book, is that you get some unexpected laughs. That you get a very real and raw look into the worst parts of my life but also the best parts, and you’ll get a feel for what training and racing on the World Cup actually feels like for me. I hope you find something to inspire you, whether that’s from my own stories, stories of my coaches, or stories of my teammates incredible team spirit off the course and brilliance on the course. 

I get to share some of the magic behind the scenes of the World Cup. (photo by Nordic Focus)

And now, finally, allow me to introduce my awesome co-author; Todd Smith! He wrote the book Hockey Strong, lives in Minnesota, and became a good friend during the last 18 months. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the book writing process from teammates and friends, so without further ado..here’s how we did it! 

Sometime in the spring of 2018, I was connected through my agent and a book agent to my future co-author, Todd. He came to my house, we bonded over our shared love of Tina Fey, and I realized he was the perfect person to help me write my life story. Over the next month we emailed and called back and forth, building a book outline based on what stories I wanted to tell, and where they fit into chapters. 

In June of 2018, Todd came to Stratton, Vermont and joined me in workouts for a week. In between, I talked, Todd asked insightful questions, and he recorded something like 20 hours on a tape recorder. Back in Minnesota, Todd got all those hours transcribed, then set to work on the book itself with all this raw material. He cleaned up my “um”s, “ahh”s and way too many “like”s, and hammered my stories into more readable chapter formats. This is the part that I would have procrastinated over for years, but he hammered right through it! Major kudos. 

Todd took this photo…while cheering me through my workouts before we’d go back and record!

Then Todd sent the chapters back over to me one by one, and all through the season and spring of 2018-19 I edited them, adding in details I forgot the first time around and taking out parts I thought weren’t necessary. It’s weird, reading your own words after they’ve been transcribed. Somehow we never quite sound as smart as we think we do! Luckily, we had a lot of time to work with it. We submitted the first draft of the book to our publisher, U of MN Press, and our editor, Erik Anderson, sometime in the late spring of 2019. 

Then Erik began the editing process with me, going through the book in a more “big picture” format, making sure we had the larger storyline where we wanted it to be. Todd was double checking everything as well! 

Next came the copyediting round with Mary Kierstead, and she and I went through the entire book line by line, word by word. Every punctuation mark was looked over, every word signed off on. Through the process of editing the book three times, I think the UMP press and I managed to change about 50% of the book! By the time we were done, I was really happy with it. It sounds exactly like me, and if you’re a frequent blog reader, it sounds like one of my blogs that grew up and went to college. 

Special thanks to Wade for keeping me from getting too stressed through all the editing by taking me camping!

During this last round of editing, I was in New Zealand at a training camp with Coach Cork and my teammate Julia Kern, who also happens to be a very talented photographer. I love her style (and she knows me so well) that she was my first and only choice to shoot the cover image for the book! It also seemed fitting to do the shoot during a camp in one of my favorite places on earth. We had a lot of giggles, wandering around the mountain at sunset, and I think she did an amazing job. Afterwards, I got to see the design process take place, and it’s so impressive to see how many people have to work so hard to make everything about a book come to life. 

One of the better outtakes (photo from Julia Kern)

I had a lot of fun reaching out to people who really inspire me to share an advance copy of the book for them to read and-hopefully-give a quote on. It was very nerve-wracking yet exciting to share with them the early draft. All their beautiful (and likely undeserved) words are on the “book” tab of my website. A very special thanks indeed to Mikaela Shiffrin, Kikkan Randall, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Ann Bancroft and Wayne Coffey! 

Brave Enough is out March 10th, but it’s already available for pre-order through a number of outlets! The “book” page on my website has links taking you right to them. I hope you enjoy it! 

Brave Enough…to be exactly who I am. (photo by Julia Kern)

My Barbie doll is jealous of my biceps.

I’ve only lost my cool in the gym once in my life. I was lifting weights early in the morning my senior year of high school, intent on being able to do 3 sets of pull-ups like I’d seen the senior athletes do at regional training camps. I was serious about training hard for cross country skiing, which meant that, like it or not, I was going to have to get serious about spending some time in the gym to get strong.

I was getting ready to do my first set of pull-ups with some assistance from a rubber band when a football player walked up with his chest puffed out.

“Move over, I’m about to do some REAL pull-ups.” he announced. “I need that bar.”

I almost punched him in his smug, stupidly chiseled jaw.

“These ARE real pull-ups.” I spat out. “You can just SIT AND WAIT!”

I was furious that, because I was a girl, he assumed he could boss me around and take over the lifting equipment just because he was going to lift something heavier than me. But maybe I should thank him, because I was intensely motivated to progress to unassisted pull-ups pretty quickly after that.

 

Working on push jerks in the gym. It doesn’t matter what weight you’re lifting, as long as you’re practicing good form! (photo by Todd Smith)

Either way, most women I’ve talked to can relate to a moment of feeling belittled, uncomfortable or out of place in the gym. Sometimes you feel self-conscious because you’re not super strong, or because you are incredibly strong and people are openly staring at you, wondering what sport you play.

I eventually learned to feel comfortable in the gym and convinced myself that I belonged, even when doing my weird “skier exercises”. But once I grew those coveted muscles, I wasn’t sure if I should be proud of them anymore. Finding a prom dress really, really sucked (and don’t get me started on the sports bra and heart rate monitor tan lines). Finding a pair of jeans that fit my quads without a huge gap in the waist was nigh-impossible, and some of the boys I dated weren’t super comfortable with the idea of their girlfriend being proportionately stronger and faster than they were. I had worked so hard to get strong and get biceps, but once I had them, they didn’t seem that awesome anymore.

Showing what it means to “train like a girl” at a Salomon photo shoot! (photo from Salomon)

Everywhere I looked, society had signs showing me what I should be striving towards. Billboard ads, tv ads, Hollywood stars, Disney princesses, even the Barbie dolls my little sister and I had played with…none of those cultural ideals looked like the professional athlete I was trying to become. I realized I needed some new heroes…and maybe the goal wasn’t necessarily to look like my Barbie doll (a feat that is anatomically impossible, by the way).

I want to make sure the next generation of girls know that they can get after it in any sport they choose!

Ultimately, I learned to focus on what my body can do, not what it looks like. The choices I make and the goals I can hunt down are much more important than how someone else thinks I look. Of course…that’s easy to say, and much harder to believe! But it’s a great place to start.

You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder, and you don’t have to look like a barbie doll (but if you do, that’s cool, too). You only need to look like YOU, and you’re allowed to change over the course of your life! If you want to grow your muscles, that’s great. If you don’t happen to have to have tons of them, you can still hit the gym or run up a mountain, if that’s what you want to do. The bottom line is that you don’t have to look a certain way to fit in. You just need to have goals, and feel supported in whatever sports you want to take on.

Grateful to each and every one of my muscles for getting me up and over 9 mountains on a 7.5 hour run this summer! Coach Pat being the best support ever in the background there!

The other worry I hear from many young women in sport is that they’re not allowed to be fierce and feminine at the same time. And I can relate to that – I’m famous for wearing sparkles on my face when I race, for goodness sake! But I also have a pretty sweet layer of drool over that glitter, because I’m pushing myself so incredibly hard. In fact, racing all-out from the gun and pushing your body past limits has become synonymous with “racing like a girl” on the cross country World Cup circuit. The women of the World Cup are known for pushing the pace right from the start and not being afraid to take chances and string out the field. And that’s a really, really cool thing to be known for.

You can be the grittiest, most badass racer on course…and do it with glitter on your face and braids in your hair (if that’s what you want)! You don’t have to choose between feeling strong and feeling beautiful, because they’re the same thing. I mean, I’m sponsored by a jewelry company (shoutout to Ross-Simons for being awesome!) and I wear really pretty sparkly things…all while I’m pushing myself in training and going on 3 hour long muddy, rocky runs on the AT trail. My point is that you never have to feel that pursuing sports will mean you can’t feel beautiful. In fact, you may find that feeling strong and capable makes you feel more beautiful because it’s coming from a place of strength! The key word here is “feel”, because it’s about how you feel inside, not how others think you look.

I love that I see glitter on both boys and girls of all ages, by the way. It’s not just a girl thing! The glitter, to me, is a statement; a promise to myself that I race because I love this sport, and a promise to go out there and have fun while laying it all out on the course. It’s a reminder to race with joy, to appreciate the fact that I get to be here.

Glitter and grit. You can possess both! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Why am I going on about this? Certainly not to save future football players from being punched in the face. It’s to save them from making that kind of comment in the first place.

Being a girl in sport is so incredibly fun. I don’t ever feel less-than. I train exactly as hard as the boys, and I learn from them in training just as they learn from me in return. I race the same World Cup circuit, and when I place in the top 20, I’m paid exactly the same as the equivalent place on the men’s side. We have the same amount of cheering as the men, and our personal sponsors are determined by our individual merit and effort, but we have equal opportunity.

I love that, at a young age, we all line up on the same start line. It’s cool to see that as we get older, we can still support each other even if men and women race at different times! (photo from SMS)

While giving an interview earlier this year, I mentioned how lucky I felt to be paid the same as the men on the World Cup, especially as news about Women’s Hockey and Soccer team pay gaps were coming out. Then I realized how dumb that sounded. I should never feel lucky for being paid to do exactly the same thing as my male counterparts. It shouldn’t be something I think about at all (and for the most part, I don’t). It should simply be a fact, for all women, in all sports, in all jobs. I feel so completely supported by the boys on our team, by our coaching staff, and by my sponsors. Because of this complete support, I feel like I can take on any training or racing challenge.

Girls belong in sport, in all capacities, in all body types. We belong as professional athletes, as recreational athletes, as coaches, as National Governing Body leaders. It’s our job – men and women – to keep girls in sport. What we say to the girls in our life as they set goals and work towards them can help empower them and keep them on track, or make them doubt themselves or feel out of place. The same holds true for young men as well; they also deserve respect, guidance and encouragement as they pursue their goals, regardless of body type or innate skill level.

Everyone working together at SMS during the summer (photo from Pat O’Brien)

Our words and actions have a huge impact on young people and coaches have one of the most influential roles in a child’s life. I know, because the words I heard from a former coach – no matter how innocent their intent was –contributed to my eating disorder.

You’d be surprised to learn how powerful our words and actions are. Proud to be a spokesperson for the Emily Program!

So, I want to remind you, if you’re a coach and you haven’t already, please sign up for WithAll’s “What to Say” Coaches Challenge. During the 5-week Challenge, participating coaches receive short weekly emails with a phrase to use, context on why the phrase matters, questions for self-reflection, and suggested action steps to do with their athletes that week. It’s SO EASY and only takes 3-5 minutes of your time each week. What are you waiting for? Just do it. Please. On behalf of all the young (and older!) athletes you’ll interact with in your lifetime.

They are running one more pilot this fall and the deadline to sign up is October 20, so head over to whattosaynow.org/coaches and sign up now.

In other training news, I’m currently crushing caffeinated beverages at a coffee shop on main street, Lake Placid, NY. We’ve just finished up our first week of training and are starting on our second week! Right before camp started we got to cheer on Simi and Sophie as they got married on the most beautiful fall day in Vermont, and it was so fun to see these good friends and long time teammates tie the knot!

This Bride is beautiful from the inside out!

Past and present SMST2 team teammates, all here to celebrate the happy couple!

This fall, we’ve split the US team camp into two parts; an altitude camp for half the team in Park City and a sea-level camp for some of us in Lake Placid. I love coming here, being inspired by seeing athletes from many different sports all training hard at the Olympic Training Center, and feeling the strong Olympic history of the town itself!

Fall leaf peeping! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

We have a few team time trials to start dialing in our race-pace intensity, and try out tactics on each other. It’s been so fun to team up with SMS, Craftsbury and Sun Valley as well as a few Collegiate teams coming in next week. I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible from everyone here!

Hard double pole intervals with this fast group of girls! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Caitlin Patterson, Simi Hamilton, Sophie Caldwell, Erik Bjornsen, me, Kevin Bolger and Julia Kern (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

My Barbie doll is jealous of my biceps.

I’ve only lost my cool in the gym once in my life. I was lifting weights early in the morning my senior year of high school, intent on being able to do 3 sets of pull-ups like I’d seen the senior athletes do at regional training camps. I was serious about training hard for cross country skiing, which meant that, like it or not, I was going to have to get serious about spending some time in the gym to get strong.

I was getting ready to do my first set of pull-ups with some assistance from a rubber band when a football player walked up with his chest puffed out.

“Move over, I’m about to do some REAL pull-ups.” he announced. “I need that bar.”

I almost punched him in his smug, stupidly chiseled jaw.

“These ARE real pull-ups.” I spat out. “You can just SIT AND WAIT!”

I was furious that, because I was a girl, he assumed he could boss me around and take over the lifting equipment just because he was going to lift something heavier than me. But maybe I should thank him, because I was intensely motivated to progress to unassisted pull-ups pretty quickly after that.

 

Working on push jerks in the gym. It doesn’t matter what weight you’re lifting, as long as you’re practicing good form! (photo by Todd Smith)

Either way, most women I’ve talked to can relate to a moment of feeling belittled, uncomfortable or out of place in the gym. Sometimes you feel self-conscious because you’re not super strong, or because you are incredibly strong and people are openly staring at you, wondering what sport you play.

I eventually learned to feel comfortable in the gym and convinced myself that I belonged, even when doing my weird “skier exercises”. But once I grew those coveted muscles, I wasn’t sure if I should be proud of them anymore. Finding a prom dress really, really sucked (and don’t get me started on the sports bra and heart rate monitor tan lines). Finding a pair of jeans that fit my quads without a huge gap in the waist was nigh-impossible, and some of the boys I dated weren’t super comfortable with the idea of their girlfriend being proportionately stronger and faster than they were. I had worked so hard to get strong and get biceps, but once I had them, they didn’t seem that awesome anymore.

Showing what it means to “train like a girl” at a Salomon photo shoot! (photo from Salomon)

Everywhere I looked, society had signs showing me what I should be striving towards. Billboard ads, tv ads, Hollywood stars, Disney princesses, even the Barbie dolls my little sister and I had played with…none of those cultural ideals looked like the professional athlete I was trying to become. I realized I needed some new heroes…and maybe the goal wasn’t necessarily to look like my Barbie doll (a feat that is anatomically impossible, by the way).

I want to make sure the next generation of girls know that they can get after it in any sport they choose!

Ultimately, I learned to focus on what my body can do, not what it looks like. The choices I make and the goals I can hunt down are much more important than how someone else thinks I look. Of course…that’s easy to say, and much harder to believe! But it’s a great place to start.

You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder, and you don’t have to look like a barbie doll (but if you do, that’s cool, too). You only need to look like YOU, and you’re allowed to change over the course of your life! If you want to grow your muscles, that’s great. If you don’t happen to have to have tons of them, you can still hit the gym or run up a mountain, if that’s what you want to do. The bottom line is that you don’t have to look a certain way to fit in. You just need to have goals, and feel supported in whatever sports you want to take on.

Grateful to each and every one of my muscles for getting me up and over 9 mountains on a 7.5 hour run this summer! Coach Pat being the best support ever in the background there!

The other worry I hear from many young women in sport is that they’re not allowed to be fierce and feminine at the same time. And I can relate to that – I’m famous for wearing sparkles on my face when I race, for goodness sake! But I also have a pretty sweet layer of drool over that glitter, because I’m pushing myself so incredibly hard. In fact, racing all-out from the gun and pushing your body past limits has become synonymous with “racing like a girl” on the cross country World Cup circuit. The women of the World Cup are known for pushing the pace right from the start and not being afraid to take chances and string out the field. And that’s a really, really cool thing to be known for.

You can be the grittiest, most badass racer on course…and do it with glitter on your face and braids in your hair (if that’s what you want)! You don’t have to choose between feeling strong and feeling beautiful, because they’re the same thing. I mean, I’m sponsored by a jewelry company (shoutout to Ross-Simons for being awesome!) and I wear really pretty sparkly things…all while I’m pushing myself in training and going on 3 hour long muddy, rocky runs on the AT trail. My point is that you never have to feel that pursuing sports will mean you can’t feel beautiful. In fact, you may find that feeling strong and capable makes you feel more beautiful because it’s coming from a place of strength! The key word here is “feel”, because it’s about how you feel inside, not how others think you look.

I love that I see glitter on both boys and girls of all ages, by the way. It’s not just a girl thing! The glitter, to me, is a statement; a promise to myself that I race because I love this sport, and a promise to go out there and have fun while laying it all out on the course. It’s a reminder to race with joy, to appreciate the fact that I get to be here.

Glitter and grit. You can possess both! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Why am I going on about this? Certainly not to save future football players from being punched in the face. It’s to save them from making that kind of comment in the first place.

Being a girl in sport is so incredibly fun. I don’t ever feel less-than. I train exactly as hard as the boys, and I learn from them in training just as they learn from me in return. I race the same World Cup circuit, and when I place in the top 20, I’m paid exactly the same as the equivalent place on the men’s side. We have the same amount of cheering as the men, and our personal sponsors are determined by our individual merit and effort, but we have equal opportunity.

I love that, at a young age, we all line up on the same start line. It’s cool to see that as we get older, we can still support each other even if men and women race at different times! (photo from SMS)

While giving an interview earlier this year, I mentioned how lucky I felt to be paid the same as the men on the World Cup, especially as news about Women’s Hockey and Soccer team pay gaps were coming out. Then I realized how dumb that sounded. I should never feel lucky for being paid to do exactly the same thing as my male counterparts. It shouldn’t be something I think about at all (and for the most part, I don’t). It should simply be a fact, for all women, in all sports, in all jobs. I feel so completely supported by the boys on our team, by our coaching staff, and by my sponsors. Because of this complete support, I feel like I can take on any training or racing challenge.

Girls belong in sport, in all capacities, in all body types. We belong as professional athletes, as recreational athletes, as coaches, as National Governing Body leaders. It’s our job – men and women – to keep girls in sport. What we say to the girls in our life as they set goals and work towards them can help empower them and keep them on track, or make them doubt themselves or feel out of place. The same holds true for young men as well; they also deserve respect, guidance and encouragement as they pursue their goals, regardless of body type or innate skill level.

Everyone working together at SMS during the summer (photo from Pat O’Brien)

Our words and actions have a huge impact on young people and coaches have one of the most influential roles in a child’s life. I know, because the words I heard from a former coach – no matter how innocent their intent was –contributed to my eating disorder.

You’d be surprised to learn how powerful our words and actions are. Proud to be a spokesperson for the Emily Program!

So, I want to remind you, if you’re a coach and you haven’t already, please sign up for WithAll’s “What to Say” Coaches Challenge. During the 5-week Challenge, participating coaches receive short weekly emails with a phrase to use, context on why the phrase matters, questions for self-reflection, and suggested action steps to do with their athletes that week. It’s SO EASY and only takes 3-5 minutes of your time each week. What are you waiting for? Just do it. Please. On behalf of all the young (and older!) athletes you’ll interact with in your lifetime.

They are running one more pilot this fall and the deadline to sign up is October 20, so head over to whattosaynow.org/coaches and sign up now.

In other training news, I’m currently crushing caffeinated beverages at a coffee shop on main street, Lake Placid, NY. We’ve just finished up our first week of training and are starting on our second week! Right before camp started we got to cheer on Simi and Sophie as they got married on the most beautiful fall day in Vermont, and it was so fun to see these good friends and long time teammates tie the knot!

This Bride is beautiful from the inside out!

Past and present SMST2 team teammates, all here to celebrate the happy couple!

This fall, we’ve split the US team camp into two parts; an altitude camp for half the team in Park City and a sea-level camp for some of us in Lake Placid. I love coming here, being inspired by seeing athletes from many different sports all training hard at the Olympic Training Center, and feeling the strong Olympic history of the town itself!

Fall leaf peeping! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

We have a few team time trials to start dialing in our race-pace intensity, and try out tactics on each other. It’s been so fun to team up with SMS, Craftsbury and Sun Valley as well as a few Collegiate teams coming in next week. I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible from everyone here!

Hard double pole intervals with this fast group of girls! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Caitlin Patterson, Simi Hamilton, Sophie Caldwell, Erik Bjornsen, me, Kevin Bolger and Julia Kern (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Creating a new arena

“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backwards after taking a step forwards is not a disaster. It is a cha cha.” – Robert Brault

I feel like the last few years have been big opportunities for learning more about myself; learning what I can do, what I can’t do (yet) and where I feel comfortable in the great balancing act of work, life, family time and outside commitments. It’s no secret that last summer I found myself completely overwhelmed by the number of things I was doing outside of training. I hadn’t allowed enough time for simply recovering and absorbing the crazy amount of training I was doing. As a result, I found myself feeling just a little bit emotionally and physically tired all the time…not enough to really notice it as it was happening, but with some hindsight, enough to notice that I feel much better this year! Over the last three years, I’ve done a little cha cha dance of taking one small step forward, one step backwards, slowing dancing my way to a happier place. I wouldn’t take back my schedule of last year, any more than you’d want to eliminate a step from the dance!

Last summer, my spirit animal accidentally started to look like this:

oops

THIS summer, I’m finally finding some balance and the ability to say no when I need to, in order to prioritize time with my family and time to properly recover from all the hours of training. Now, my spirit animal looks much more like my dog:

That’s more like it.

That’s not to say I haven’t kept busy, but as I’m adding hours to my training, I’m learning how to keep a healthy balance. Here’s a little recap of the summer, and what’s kept me inspired and happy while training hard all over the world!

After an awesome start to the training season at home in Minnesota with my family, I went to Bend, Oregon for the first US national team training camp of the season. It was a great chance to meet new team members, train hard, but also just get some long hours on snow under our belts!

They say dogs and their owners sometimes look alike. Too much, maybe?

So happy to reconnect with the girls again! Sadie, Hannah, me and Hailey (photo from Matt)

Some of the crew on a long, fun crust ski up to Broken Top mountain. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

When coach says “we’re headed up that mountain”. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Next, I had the awesome opportunity to fly across the pond and join the Norwegian National Team women in a training camp in late June. I already knew most of the girls, but it was such a fun chance to get to meet new friends and get to know everyone even better! I think what I loved most about that camp was seeing how much they care for each other and work to support a good team chemistry. I admire that even more than their incredible racing and work ethic (a big statement, since they’re amazing athletes all round), because the commitment to building the soul of the team is what will continue to grow those opportunities for success.

Having fun, but training hard with the Norwegian girls! This was after a tough strength workout.

I have so many friends on the World Cup circuit, from pretty much every country out there. It’s exciting to me to meet skiers from around the world, to get to know them. Despite growing up in very different places, we’re usually more alike than we are different. I also love that feeling of camaraderie that comes with recognizing that everyone has given a race their best effort, and you can be friends up until the moment the gun goes off, and friends immediately afterwards. I see this all the time on the US circuit, but I see it on the World Cup circuit every weekend as well.

Finish line hugs with Erika Flowers and Liz Stephen after a US Supertour race (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

Getting a big hug from Marit after the last World Cup race of 2018 – and her last World Cup race ever. (photo from Falun World Cup)

When you see someone giving it everything they’ve got, it’s as though international boundaries and team lines melt away and you only want to congratulate and support a fellow human for a job well done. That’s why you’ll see myself and many other athletes patting backs, unclipping ski bindings and helping to untangle pole straps for anyone still trying to catch their breath in the snow after a race, regardless of what color suit they have on. I think this is one of the best parts of the cross country ski circuit, and one of the things I’ll be taking with me when I retire someday.

Getting some much-needed help from Ingvild and Heidi after the 2018 Tour de Ski finish line (photo by Fiemme ski World Cup)

I think this feeling is best summed up in an awesome quote by pro cyclist Amber Pierce:

“None of us can do as well solo as we do in a race when we compete with others. Your competitor is helping you to discover your limits and potential and how you have more in yourself than you thought possible. She is your greatest ally in that self-discovery, and you are the same for her,” says Amber. “Regardless of whether you win or lose, you are creating an arena in which you can reach peak performance. You are competing together because you bring out the best performance from each of you. In that regard, training hard and being as prepared as possible to give your best effort during competition is the best gift you can give your competitor, because she has to reach that much higher to find her own personal excellence.”

Beyond the obvious (don’t cheat, compete clean, DUH!) the best thing we could ever do for the competitors we admire and respect is to simply show up ready to give it all that we have. And I’m so grateful to each and everyone one of the women on the Norwegian team (and their coaches!) for having me and coach Jason Cork at their camp, so we can continue to push one another to the highest levels we possibly can!

At home, this is what we do every single season; we re-create and form a new arena where every member of the team can find opportunities to grow. The exact makeup and feel of the team is going to change every year as the people on the team change, but the commitment to helping each other find success is a constant.

After getting a few weeks of training in at Stratton, I flew up to Alaska to see Sadie become Sadie Maubet Bjornsen as she married Jo! It was so special to get to see a teammate but also very close friend get married, and of course the weekend also felt like one amazing team reunion! I finally got to meet Holly’s adorable babies and catch up on the stories of all my teammate’s lives.

Holly Brooks, Ida Sargent, me, Liz Stephen and Kikkan Randall all out for a mountain run.

On my way home, I stopped in Minnesota for a short but sweet visit with my family.

Leo and Dad swimming in the St. Croix river on a hot day

Then it was time for more training with my SMST2 teammates in Stratton!

A regular Tuesday suffer session (photo from Jason Cork)

Parking lot sprints with the junior training group (photo by George Forbes)

In addition to our weekly coaching sessions every Thursday afternoon for the local skiers, we hosted a few clinics as well, and it was very cool to see so many different junior skiers training hard and challenging themselves!

Honestly not sure what I’m doing with my right hand, but I’m trying to demo the pump track for an agility workout with the CSU team! (photo from Reese Brown)

I snuck in a camping trip with Wade, too!

We went “fancy camping” and brought a quilt…the same one I smuggled out of the Sochi Olympic village.

I’d been dreaming of doing the Presidential Traverse for a few years now, but due to the fact that it’s about 20 miles that goes over 8 peaks in the white mountains of New Hampshire, it didn’t quite fit into the training plan for a while. But this summer, I finally did it, with our club coach Pat O’Brien and Ida Sargent! It took us 7.5 hours and we added on an additional peak, but wow, what a day! My legs were crushed for a few days afterwards, but the views that day were well worth the inability to go down a staircase.

Pat, Ida and I on our way up Mt. Washington, about half-way through our epic 7.5 hour hike/run!

Because I love being cold and pretty much cease to function properly in the extreme heat and humidity, it was time to escape from summer and head down to my all-time favorite training camp: New Zealand.

Cork and Julia cruising on top of the world! *Or is it bottom of the world, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere?

This camp was just me, Jason Cork and Julia Kern, and we had an amazing time down under. Because it was just the three of us, it was really easy to decide what to do with our day off: paragliding over Queenstown!

Julia taking flight!

We encouraged each other in intervals, pushed each other in the New Zealand Winter Games series, and helped each other with our speed and technique goals. There are certain things like fast downhill corners, finish-line lunges, kicking classic skis in tricky waxing conditions and herringboning up hills that you simply cannot work on while on roller skis. We used the most of our averaged 650 kilometers that we skied those three weeks (oh yes, Julia added it up on her watch!) to work on all those skills as well as push our comfort zones in each of the 4 races we did!

They had some short but really steep hills on those race courses! I loved it. (photo by New Zealand Winter Games)

Practicing giving it everything I have. (photo from Cath Beattie)

The sunsets were ridiculous every few nights, as well. I swear, I did NOT edit the image below. It’s just that gorgeous.

This never gets old!

We also mixed it up with a really fun, long run halfway through training camp! In case it isn’t obvious, I have a huge crush on everything New Zealand.

Loving the single track running! (photo from Cork)

Goofing off in Wanaka! (photo from Julia)

Of course, camp wouldn’t have been complete without the traditional crust skiing day, where we got to practice our “Nor-pining” skills by making turns…on classic skis with klister wax on! Talk about committing to the turn!

Julia cooling me down with some fresh powder 🙂

All in all, it was an incredible camp, and I felt that my body absorbed the training and racing load well. I feel so grateful to have had that chance to push myself and get better during those three weeks!

Now I’m back in Stratton for a nice big block of training, and loving the steady rhythm of training, napping, cooking up really awesome meals with my roommate and teammate Alayna. We’re also into the sweet habit of re-watching Game of Thrones with a bowl of popcorn every night together!

Alayna and I were so impressed with the Stratton Nordic kids for going to the Global Climate Strike last week!

Alayna and I getting some sunshine time!

We have one last team camp coming up, and I’m so excited to get together with my teammates and create that arena where we can help each other reach our best performances. It’s our last chance to push each other to be better, to challenge each other in hard intervals, before the final few weeks of preparation leading in to the World Cup season. It’s not always convenient or easy to pack your bags and leave your cozy home to hit the road. I’d love more time in my own condo, more weekends with my boyfriend, more chances to plan little camping trips. But every time I go to camp, I think it’s well worth the time spent traveling in order to not only build myself into the best racer I can be, but use my strengths and years of experience to help build my teammates up as well.

In the wise words of Winnie-the-Pooh:

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Creating a new arena

“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backwards after taking a step forwards is not a disaster. It is a cha cha.” – Robert Brault

I feel like the last few years have been big opportunities for learning more about myself; learning what I can do, what I can’t do (yet) and where I feel comfortable in the great balancing act of work, life, family time and outside commitments. It’s no secret that last summer I found myself completely overwhelmed by the number of things I was doing outside of training. I hadn’t allowed enough time for simply recovering and absorbing the crazy amount of training I was doing. As a result, I found myself feeling just a little bit emotionally and physically tired all the time…not enough to really notice it as it was happening, but with some hindsight, enough to notice that I feel much better this year! Over the last three years, I’ve done a little cha cha dance of taking one small step forward, one step backwards, slowing dancing my way to a happier place. I wouldn’t take back my schedule of last year, any more than you’d want to eliminate a step from the dance!

Last summer, my spirit animal accidentally started to look like this:

oops

THIS summer, I’m finally finding some balance and the ability to say no when I need to, in order to prioritize time with my family and time to properly recover from all the hours of training. Now, my spirit animal looks much more like my dog:

That’s more like it.

That’s not to say I haven’t kept busy, but as I’m adding hours to my training, I’m learning how to keep a healthy balance. Here’s a little recap of the summer, and what’s kept me inspired and happy while training hard all over the world!

After an awesome start to the training season at home in Minnesota with my family, I went to Bend, Oregon for the first US national team training camp of the season. It was a great chance to meet new team members, train hard, but also just get some long hours on snow under our belts!

They say dogs and their owners sometimes look alike. Too much, maybe?

So happy to reconnect with the girls again! Sadie, Hannah, me and Hailey (photo from Matt)

Some of the crew on a long, fun crust ski up to Broken Top mountain. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

When coach says “we’re headed up that mountain”. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Next, I had the awesome opportunity to fly across the pond and join the Norwegian National Team women in a training camp in late June. I already knew most of the girls, but it was such a fun chance to get to meet new friends and get to know everyone even better! I think what I loved most about that camp was seeing how much they care for each other and work to support a good team chemistry. I admire that even more than their incredible racing and work ethic (a big statement, since they’re amazing athletes all round), because the commitment to building the soul of the team is what will continue to grow those opportunities for success.

Having fun, but training hard with the Norwegian girls! This was after a tough strength workout.

I have so many friends on the World Cup circuit, from pretty much every country out there. It’s exciting to me to meet skiers from around the world, to get to know them. Despite growing up in very different places, we’re usually more alike than we are different. I also love that feeling of camaraderie that comes with recognizing that everyone has given a race their best effort, and you can be friends up until the moment the gun goes off, and friends immediately afterwards. I see this all the time on the US circuit, but I see it on the World Cup circuit every weekend as well.

Finish line hugs with Erika Flowers and Liz Stephen after a US Supertour race (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

Getting a big hug from Marit after the last World Cup race of 2018 – and her last World Cup race ever. (photo from Falun World Cup)

When you see someone giving it everything they’ve got, it’s as though international boundaries and team lines melt away and you only want to congratulate and support a fellow human for a job well done. That’s why you’ll see myself and many other athletes patting backs, unclipping ski bindings and helping to untangle pole straps for anyone still trying to catch their breath in the snow after a race, regardless of what color suit they have on. I think this is one of the best parts of the cross country ski circuit, and one of the things I’ll be taking with me when I retire someday.

Getting some much-needed help from Ingvild and Heidi after the 2018 Tour de Ski finish line (photo by Fiemme ski World Cup)

I think this feeling is best summed up in an awesome quote by pro cyclist Amber Pierce:

“None of us can do as well solo as we do in a race when we compete with others. Your competitor is helping you to discover your limits and potential and how you have more in yourself than you thought possible. She is your greatest ally in that self-discovery, and you are the same for her,” says Amber. “Regardless of whether you win or lose, you are creating an arena in which you can reach peak performance. You are competing together because you bring out the best performance from each of you. In that regard, training hard and being as prepared as possible to give your best effort during competition is the best gift you can give your competitor, because she has to reach that much higher to find her own personal excellence.”

Beyond the obvious (don’t cheat, compete clean, DUH!) the best thing we could ever do for the competitors we admire and respect is to simply show up ready to give it all that we have. And I’m so grateful to each and everyone one of the women on the Norwegian team (and their coaches!) for having me and coach Jason Cork at their camp, so we can continue to push one another to the highest levels we possibly can!

At home, this is what we do every single season; we re-create and form a new arena where every member of the team can find opportunities to grow. The exact makeup and feel of the team is going to change every year as the people on the team change, but the commitment to helping each other find success is a constant.

After getting a few weeks of training in at Stratton, I flew up to Alaska to see Sadie become Sadie Maubet Bjornsen as she married Jo! It was so special to get to see a teammate but also very close friend get married, and of course the weekend also felt like one amazing team reunion! I finally got to meet Holly’s adorable babies and catch up on the stories of all my teammate’s lives.

Holly Brooks, Ida Sargent, me, Liz Stephen and Kikkan Randall all out for a mountain run.

On my way home, I stopped in Minnesota for a short but sweet visit with my family.

Leo and Dad swimming in the St. Croix river on a hot day

Then it was time for more training with my SMST2 teammates in Stratton!

A regular Tuesday suffer session (photo from Jason Cork)

Parking lot sprints with the junior training group (photo by George Forbes)

In addition to our weekly coaching sessions every Thursday afternoon for the local skiers, we hosted a few clinics as well, and it was very cool to see so many different junior skiers training hard and challenging themselves!

Honestly not sure what I’m doing with my right hand, but I’m trying to demo the pump track for an agility workout with the CSU team! (photo from Reese Brown)

I snuck in a camping trip with Wade, too!

We went “fancy camping” and brought a quilt…the same one I smuggled out of the Sochi Olympic village.

I’d been dreaming of doing the Presidential Traverse for a few years now, but due to the fact that it’s about 20 miles that goes over 8 peaks in the white mountains of New Hampshire, it didn’t quite fit into the training plan for a while. But this summer, I finally did it, with our club coach Pat O’Brien and Ida Sargent! It took us 7.5 hours and we added on an additional peak, but wow, what a day! My legs were crushed for a few days afterwards, but the views that day were well worth the inability to go down a staircase.

Pat, Ida and I on our way up Mt. Washington, about half-way through our epic 7.5 hour hike/run!

Because I love being cold and pretty much cease to function properly in the extreme heat and humidity, it was time to escape from summer and head down to my all-time favorite training camp: New Zealand.

Cork and Julia cruising on top of the world! *Or is it bottom of the world, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere?

This camp was just me, Jason Cork and Julia Kern, and we had an amazing time down under. Because it was just the three of us, it was really easy to decide what to do with our day off: paragliding over Queenstown!

Julia taking flight!

We encouraged each other in intervals, pushed each other in the New Zealand Winter Games series, and helped each other with our speed and technique goals. There are certain things like fast downhill corners, finish-line lunges, kicking classic skis in tricky waxing conditions and herringboning up hills that you simply cannot work on while on roller skis. We used the most of our averaged 650 kilometers that we skied those three weeks (oh yes, Julia added it up on her watch!) to work on all those skills as well as push our comfort zones in each of the 4 races we did!

They had some short but really steep hills on those race courses! I loved it. (photo by New Zealand Winter Games)

Practicing giving it everything I have. (photo from Cath Beattie)

The sunsets were ridiculous every few nights, as well. I swear, I did NOT edit the image below. It’s just that gorgeous.

This never gets old!

We also mixed it up with a really fun, long run halfway through training camp! In case it isn’t obvious, I have a huge crush on everything New Zealand.

Loving the single track running! (photo from Cork)

Goofing off in Wanaka! (photo from Julia)

Of course, camp wouldn’t have been complete without the traditional crust skiing day, where we got to practice our “Nor-pining” skills by making turns…on classic skis with klister wax on! Talk about committing to the turn!

Julia cooling me down with some fresh powder 🙂

All in all, it was an incredible camp, and I felt that my body absorbed the training and racing load well. I feel so grateful to have had that chance to push myself and get better during those three weeks!

Now I’m back in Stratton for a nice big block of training, and loving the steady rhythm of training, napping, cooking up really awesome meals with my roommate and teammate Alayna. We’re also into the sweet habit of re-watching Game of Thrones with a bowl of popcorn every night together!

Alayna and I were so impressed with the Stratton Nordic kids for going to the Global Climate Strike last week!

Alayna and I getting some sunshine time!

We have one last team camp coming up, and I’m so excited to get together with my teammates and create that arena where we can help each other reach our best performances. It’s our last chance to push each other to be better, to challenge each other in hard intervals, before the final few weeks of preparation leading in to the World Cup season. It’s not always convenient or easy to pack your bags and leave your cozy home to hit the road. I’d love more time in my own condo, more weekends with my boyfriend, more chances to plan little camping trips. But every time I go to camp, I think it’s well worth the time spent traveling in order to not only build myself into the best racer I can be, but use my strengths and years of experience to help build my teammates up as well.

In the wise words of Winnie-the-Pooh:

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Words matter, so let’s learn What To Say.

The spring after competing in my first Olympic Games in 2014, I should have been full of self-confidence, fired up about training hard, and setting big goals. And I was! But one particular event really shook my faith in myself, and my confidence in rocking the muscles I had spent hundreds of hours sweating to be able to have. We had a bonfire party at my house to celebrate the end of the season, and invited a bunch of friends over.

Someone who had been one of our many awesome volunteer coaches for my high school team came over to wish me well after the season, and after talking for a few minutes they casually threw out “wow, you look a lot bigger than you did in high school! Have you gained weight?”

The casual comment about my size and shape of my body was what I would call an unintentional cruelty. In fact, when I look back on it, they may have even intended the remark as a compliment! But whatever the intention was, that evening, I slid back into my eating disordered habits for the first time in over a year, throwing up everything I ate for three days before getting help and once again committing to taking care of myself. I didn’t reach out to or talk to that person again for 3 years. When I think about this person, to this day, their comment is the first thing that comes to mind, which is honestly really sad. Clearly, they didn’t have any idea that they caused me harm, but through their words, they caused me such physical distress that I was one unlucky day away from a serious trip to the hospital.

That an off-hand comment from someone who wasn’t even extremely close to me could have such a destructive impact on my mental and physical well being seemed crazy, but there I was, relapsing into my eating disorder because I no longer felt fast, powerful, or confident. I only felt “too big”.

If one sentence can spiral an Olympic athlete back into an eating disorder, take a moment and imagine what a parent or coach could cause by telling a young athlete directly under their mentorship something along the lines of “you’d be much faster if you lost weight”, or “you could jump higher if only you dropped 10 pounds”.

Words matter. What we say to the people who look up to us, especially as coaches and parents, can have a huge impact on them. You can’t directly cause an eating disorder with your words—eating disorders are complicated, and multiple factors contribute to their development. But the words we say to others can be, and often are, significant contributors to a person’s an eating disorder.  Or, words can set one off. I know, because it happened to me.

I am so proud to speak up about my past with an eating disorder in order to help people currently struggling see that there IS hope! (photo from Julia Kern)

So what do we do? Say nothing? We could never, ever bring up food or body image for fear of saying the wrong thing…  OR, we could be the person in a young child’s life who sets a great example by not being afraid to start the conversation in a positive direction! As a coach, teacher or parent, you have the incredible opportunity to mindfully acknowledge the role food and body image play in each of our lives, and model self-care for the people who look up to you.

Which is where the “What To Say” initiative from the WithAll Foundation comes in! WithAll is the nonprofit that focuses on advancing eating disorder prevention and support. “What To Say” is an initiative to empower adults to help the kids in their lives develop healthy relationships with food and body. Decades of research show that what influential adults in a child’s life say about food, body, diet, and exercise has tremendous power in shaping the child’s body image, self-esteem and the likelihood that a child will develop an eating disorder. That’s why WithAll started this program; to give adults simple and direct resources to raise their own awareness about their relationship with food and body image, and to be able to take proactive action with the children in their life.

Happy to talk about WithAll and the importance of educating all the adults in a young athlete’s life! (photo by Render Photography)

So what exactly IS “What to Say”? Glad you asked!

  • “What to Say” is starting with 5 phrases adults can use now with kids, as well as age-specific phrases for youth sports coaches. They will expand with specific phrases for pediatricians, teachers and parents, as well as more resources for all adults.
  • Their premise is that while inspiring a child’s health and sense of self is a big responsibility, it doesn’t have to be complex. Knowing what to say, and feeling empowered in the small moments of each day, can have a big influence. Learn more at whattosaynow.org

They’re starting with coaches, because eating disorder risk and prevalence is higher among athletes. Having a coach simply be aware of how they talk about their athlete’s bodies and food, or even how they talk about their own bodies in front of their athletes, can have a huge impact. I mean, think about it…no child is born counting calories, declaring carbs to be off-limits, or saying that they are “being bad” when eating french fries. These are learned behaviors they pick up from mimicking the adults in their lives. Even if you never say anything disparaging to a child about their body, how you treat yourself and how you talk about your own body in front of them has a lasting impact. Not only do you want to treat the kids in your life with love and respect, you need to treat yourself that way, too!

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my Mom never, ever said “do these pants make me look fat?” in front of me as a kid. Pants were, well, pants. You wore them around in lieu of being stark naked. Nothing more. They didn’t carry emotional baggage. Clothes didn’t make me feel shameful if they failed to make me look skinny. Similarly, my Dad never talked about food being “good” or “bad”…it was just delicious, and a good way to have energy for going out and mowing the lawn or going out and canoeing! If you were hungry, you ate. It was very simple. And the coaches I worked with all the time were always awesome in how they referred to food – it was powerful fuel that we needed in order to do what we loved. Food could also bring about happy social events, like the big team pasta feeds the night before a race! How they referred to food and their own bodies had a really positive impact on me, and I still ended up with an eating disorder later in life…but in all honestly, I think being surrounded by all that positive messaging saved me from developing my disorder at an extremely young age.

Really grateful to have such loving and supportive parents!

WithAll created a coaches challenge, to have coaches spend a little bit of time each week thinking about how phrases they use to describe their athlete’s bodies could have an impact on the kids they spend so much time coaching. For example, the first week’s phrase was “Healthy athletes come in all shapes and sizes.” Coaches learned how they have a powerful voice in reminding their athletes that they don’t have to look a certain way to be a great athlete. They were prompted to think about how well they accept the shape and size of their own body and its abilities, and how they might be communicating that to their athletes. Suggested action steps included modeling positive self-talk with their athletes, jumping in to redirect negative comments they overhear, and bringing their athletes together to discuss how appreciating their own bodies is an important part of being a good athlete and playing their sport well.

I’m so appreciative of having so many coaches who think I’m a badass for working hard, not for looking a certain way. (photo from Coach Pat)

In their own words, the WithAll “coaches challenge” is pretty simple, and for a busy coach they don’t want to take up too much of your time. But, this is incredibly important! “This challenge offers guidance for how and why to use the 5 phrases with your athletes. It consists of a short weekly email with suggested action steps for one phrase and poses a question or two for your own self-reflection. Our goal: make it easy for you to have an even bigger positive impact on the health of the kids who look up to you.” They’re running another challenge this summer/fall, and if you’re a coach of any sport, any age level, you can sign up right here: https://whattosaynow.org/coaches/

Because you can’t focus on training and jumping high if your brain is busy worrying about your body! (photo from Coach Cork)

And for those of you reading this who are currently struggling through an eating disorder (statistically, 6% of you)? I’m sending out a huge hug of loving support. And I’d like to tell you to be brave, to do the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life, and reach out for help. Talk to a trusted family member, friend or coach and share that you need some help. Pick up the phone and call the Emily Program at 1-888-EMILY- 77 and someone will be there to talk to you, do a short quiz over the phone to determine what sort of eating disorder you might have with a few simple questions, and schedule an intake provider meeting within just a few days for a more thorough assessment of what type of care and treatment plan you may need. They do an incredible job breaking down barriers to treatment, so your concerns are quickly heard and you will be able to start recovery as soon as possible!

It’s time to Make Peace With Food. (photo from Julia Kern)

We can so often find reasons to put off doing things for ourselves, but when it comes to your mental and physical well being, there really isn’t time to wait. When you’re living with an eating disorder, you’re only living half a life. The sooner you can start recovery, the sooner you can get back to living your full, whole and happy life again! People often put off going to treatment because their eating disorder tricks them into thinking they don’t deserve help, that they’re not worth it, or that they are selfish for wanting to fix themselves instead of spending their time taking care of other people in their life. But think of it this way; if you aren’t healthy, you can’t be there for the people in your life the way you can if you’re taking good care of yourself. If you are healthy and empowered, you can be such an incredible positive role model and force for good in someone else’s life, too! So even if you don’t want to start recovery for yourself, ask for help for the people who love you in your life. For just about a million other reasons to start getting your life back right away, check out this inspiring post from the Emily Program at this link. 

One more reason to start recovery this summer? So you can picnic on the beach and simply enjoy it, not worry the whole time!

A really great resource if you’d like to learn a little more? The Emily Program’s new podcast, called Peace Meal. Their first episode, Eating Disorders 101, is incredibly enlightening and will help shed a little light on what eating disorders are, how to go about getting help, and how to support a loved one going through treatment. They also dispel a lot of myths that people still believe about eating disorders!

Words matter, so let’s learn What To Say.

The spring after competing in my first Olympic Games in 2014, I should have been full of self-confidence, fired up about training hard, and setting big goals. And I was! But one particular event really shook my faith in myself, and my confidence in rocking the muscles I had spent hundreds of hours sweating to be able to have. We had a bonfire party at my house to celebrate the end of the season, and invited a bunch of friends over.

Someone who had been one of our many awesome volunteer coaches for my high school team came over to wish me well after the season, and after talking for a few minutes they casually threw out “wow, you look a lot bigger than you did in high school! Have you gained weight?”

The casual comment about my size and shape of my body was what I would call an unintentional cruelty. In fact, when I look back on it, they may have even intended the remark as a compliment! But whatever the intention was, that evening, I slid back into my eating disordered habits for the first time in over a year, throwing up everything I ate for three days before getting help and once again committing to taking care of myself. I didn’t reach out to or talk to that person again for 3 years. When I think about this person, to this day, their comment is the first thing that comes to mind, which is honestly really sad. Clearly, they didn’t have any idea that they caused me harm, but through their words, they caused me such physical distress that I was one unlucky day away from a serious trip to the hospital.

That an off-hand comment from someone who wasn’t even extremely close to me could have such a destructive impact on my mental and physical well being seemed crazy, but there I was, relapsing into my eating disorder because I no longer felt fast, powerful, or confident. I only felt “too big”.

If one sentence can spiral an Olympic athlete back into an eating disorder, take a moment and imagine what a parent or coach could cause by telling a young athlete directly under their mentorship something along the lines of “you’d be much faster if you lost weight”, or “you could jump higher if only you dropped 10 pounds”.

Words matter. What we say to the people who look up to us, especially as coaches and parents, can have a huge impact on them. You can’t directly cause an eating disorder with your words—eating disorders are complicated, and multiple factors contribute to their development. But the words we say to others can be, and often are, significant contributors to a person’s an eating disorder.  Or, words can set one off. I know, because it happened to me.

I am so proud to speak up about my past with an eating disorder in order to help people currently struggling see that there IS hope! (photo from Julia Kern)

So what do we do? Say nothing? We could never, ever bring up food or body image for fear of saying the wrong thing…  OR, we could be the person in a young child’s life who sets a great example by not being afraid to start the conversation in a positive direction! As a coach, teacher or parent, you have the incredible opportunity to mindfully acknowledge the role food and body image play in each of our lives, and model self-care for the people who look up to you.

Which is where the “What To Say” initiative from the WithAll Foundation comes in! WithAll is the nonprofit that focuses on advancing eating disorder prevention and support. “What To Say” is an initiative to empower adults to help the kids in their lives develop healthy relationships with food and body. Decades of research show that what influential adults in a child’s life say about food, body, diet, and exercise has tremendous power in shaping the child’s body image, self-esteem and the likelihood that a child will develop an eating disorder. That’s why WithAll started this program; to give adults simple and direct resources to raise their own awareness about their relationship with food and body image, and to be able to take proactive action with the children in their life.

Happy to talk about WithAll and the importance of educating all the adults in a young athlete’s life! (photo by Render Photography)

So what exactly IS “What to Say”? Glad you asked!

  • “What to Say” is starting with 5 phrases adults can use now with kids, as well as age-specific phrases for youth sports coaches. They will expand with specific phrases for pediatricians, teachers and parents, as well as more resources for all adults.
  • Their premise is that while inspiring a child’s health and sense of self is a big responsibility, it doesn’t have to be complex. Knowing what to say, and feeling empowered in the small moments of each day, can have a big influence. Learn more at whattosaynow.org

They’re starting with coaches, because eating disorder risk and prevalence is higher among athletes. Having a coach simply be aware of how they talk about their athlete’s bodies and food, or even how they talk about their own bodies in front of their athletes, can have a huge impact. I mean, think about it…no child is born counting calories, declaring carbs to be off-limits, or saying that they are “being bad” when eating french fries. These are learned behaviors they pick up from mimicking the adults in their lives. Even if you never say anything disparaging to a child about their body, how you treat yourself and how you talk about your own body in front of them has a lasting impact. Not only do you want to treat the kids in your life with love and respect, you need to treat yourself that way, too!

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my Mom never, ever said “do these pants make me look fat?” in front of me as a kid. Pants were, well, pants. You wore them around in lieu of being stark naked. Nothing more. They didn’t carry emotional baggage. Clothes didn’t make me feel shameful if they failed to make me look skinny. Similarly, my Dad never talked about food being “good” or “bad”…it was just delicious, and a good way to have energy for going out and mowing the lawn or going out and canoeing! If you were hungry, you ate. It was very simple. And the coaches I worked with all the time were always awesome in how they referred to food – it was powerful fuel that we needed in order to do what we loved. Food could also bring about happy social events, like the big team pasta feeds the night before a race! How they referred to food and their own bodies had a really positive impact on me, and I still ended up with an eating disorder later in life…but in all honestly, I think being surrounded by all that positive messaging saved me from developing my disorder at an extremely young age.

Really grateful to have such loving and supportive parents!

WithAll created a coaches challenge, to have coaches spend a little bit of time each week thinking about how phrases they use to describe their athlete’s bodies could have an impact on the kids they spend so much time coaching. For example, the first week’s phrase was “Healthy athletes come in all shapes and sizes.” Coaches learned how they have a powerful voice in reminding their athletes that they don’t have to look a certain way to be a great athlete. They were prompted to think about how well they accept the shape and size of their own body and its abilities, and how they might be communicating that to their athletes. Suggested action steps included modeling positive self-talk with their athletes, jumping in to redirect negative comments they overhear, and bringing their athletes together to discuss how appreciating their own bodies is an important part of being a good athlete and playing their sport well.

I’m so appreciative of having so many coaches who think I’m a badass for working hard, not for looking a certain way. (photo from Coach Pat)

In their own words, the WithAll “coaches challenge” is pretty simple, and for a busy coach they don’t want to take up too much of your time. But, this is incredibly important! “This challenge offers guidance for how and why to use the 5 phrases with your athletes. It consists of a short weekly email with suggested action steps for one phrase and poses a question or two for your own self-reflection. Our goal: make it easy for you to have an even bigger positive impact on the health of the kids who look up to you.” They’re running another challenge this summer/fall, and if you’re a coach of any sport, any age level, you can sign up right here: https://whattosaynow.org/coaches/

Because you can’t focus on training and jumping high if your brain is busy worrying about your body! (photo from Coach Cork)

And for those of you reading this who are currently struggling through an eating disorder (statistically, 6% of you)? I’m sending out a huge hug of loving support. And I’d like to tell you to be brave, to do the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life, and reach out for help. Talk to a trusted family member, friend or coach and share that you need some help. Pick up the phone and call the Emily Program at 1-888-EMILY- 77 and someone will be there to talk to you, do a short quiz over the phone to determine what sort of eating disorder you might have with a few simple questions, and schedule an intake provider meeting within just a few days for a more thorough assessment of what type of care and treatment plan you may need. They do an incredible job breaking down barriers to treatment, so your concerns are quickly heard and you will be able to start recovery as soon as possible!

It’s time to Make Peace With Food. (photo from Julia Kern)

We can so often find reasons to put off doing things for ourselves, but when it comes to your mental and physical well being, there really isn’t time to wait. When you’re living with an eating disorder, you’re only living half a life. The sooner you can start recovery, the sooner you can get back to living your full, whole and happy life again! People often put off going to treatment because their eating disorder tricks them into thinking they don’t deserve help, that they’re not worth it, or that they are selfish for wanting to fix themselves instead of spending their time taking care of other people in their life. But think of it this way; if you aren’t healthy, you can’t be there for the people in your life the way you can if you’re taking good care of yourself. If you are healthy and empowered, you can be such an incredible positive role model and force for good in someone else’s life, too! So even if you don’t want to start recovery for yourself, ask for help for the people who love you in your life. For just about a million other reasons to start getting your life back right away, check out this inspiring post from the Emily Program at this link. 

One more reason to start recovery this summer? So you can picnic on the beach and simply enjoy it, not worry the whole time!

A really great resource if you’d like to learn a little more? The Emily Program’s new podcast, called Peace Meal. Their first episode, Eating Disorders 101, is incredibly enlightening and will help shed a little light on what eating disorders are, how to go about getting help, and how to support a loved one going through treatment. They also dispel a lot of myths that people still believe about eating disorders!

The inside guide to Peru, part two!

I’m back! Ready for part two of the Salkantay trek, and Machu Picchu? Picking up where I left off, we woke up nice and early (thanks to Heihei the slightly confused rooster, whom I still haven’t forgiven), and started our third day with…a van ride!

Only in Peru does the graffiti feature…Llamas?!? (photo from Cesar)

Cesar had learned the night before that there had been a huge landslide that took out the hiking path we were supposed to go on a few weeks ago. They had dug out a new path through the slide, but just three days ago it slid once again, and thank goodness for our guide figuring that out ahead of time! We said goodbye to the horses and the porters who had taken care of them, and took a car on the bumpy dirt road across the part of the valley that was most prone to landslides. While Wade and I were stunned by the jaw-dropping cliffs that our left wheels were only inches away from, neither Cesar nor our driver were the least bit fazed. “Slides are very frequent around here!” the driver told us, in a gross understatement. We lost track of how many slides we saw, and how many times we drove through a slide that had been bulldozed to clear a narrow path for cars. This. Was. Epic! Again, like I said…they just make them tougher in the Andes.

I don’t have photos from our car ride, but the road we walked after was gorgeous and full of flowers!

After almost an hour’s drive, we got out of the car and walked the rest of the way to the small village of Lucmabamba, or, as Wade would pronounce it…”luuuk-at-mah-bumba”. We loved this place.

Layers on layers of green!

Little campsites were offered along the single dirt road that was the main road, and most campsites were also small plantations that grew anything from coffee to bananas, passionfruit, guavas, avocados, yucca, corn, plantains and potatoes.

Much smarter chickens lived at our campsite with us this time around.

Our campsite for night 3 of the trek!

If you have the chance, I highly recommend the place we camped at, Flor de Cafe. The adorable couple there grow and make their own coffee (some of which we brought back with us! Don’t tell US Customs!) but the best part was that the owner gave us an awesome tour of his farm, explaining how he cares for and grows each plant and letting us pick and then eat a variety of things!

Picking avocados with a long pole attached to a basket.

I had tasted passionfruit juice before, but never peeled and eaten one fresh, and it became my favorite snack. After breaking the harder shell and peeling away the soft white almost fuzzy stuff around the fruit, you get this wobbly, clear jello-like mass of seeds, each surrounded by juicy little blobs of fruit. It was as if a pomegranite, a jelly fish and chia pudding decided to join forces inside this bright yellow shell. “Like a monkey brain!” Cesar told us, “just suck it out, break the fruit in your mouth but don’t crunch the seeds and swallow it!”’ That was one delicious monkey brain.

Yucca root!

But first, coffee.

We picked a number of coffee fruits from one of the many Arabica trees on his farm, then brought them over to the cement bins where the farmer would hand crank the wheel of the machine that separated the red skin of the fruit from the beans within, the skin falling to the back and the beans dropping to the floor of the container. I had no idea how exactly coffee was made before this (I gathered the roasting the green beans and grinding part, but the steps before that were a mystery to me) and it was surprising to me to learn that when I put a fresh green bean in my mouth it was covered by a sweet sort of sap, a film covering the bean.

Ripe coffee fruit is red, and the beans inside it are green.

Our new farmer friend holding the Arabica coffee tree as we picked the ripe fruits.

Wade operating the machine that separated the shell from the beans.

Honestly, we were having way too much fun with this!

Then came the part we cheated because we didn’t actually have three days; the farmer explained that he would fill the basin with water and the beans that floated to the top were bad, and were scooped out. The rest would be thoroughly washed, then dried out for three days before the light shell covering the bean was taken off.

The red shell, the slimy green beans, and in the pan the beans that had been washed then dried out.

When you were left with just the dried green beans, this is the stage where many coffee companies purchase the beans from this area of the world and roast them themselves. This is when we took a bunch of the beans over to a corner of the farmer’s covered stone patio, where a small pot was placed over a fire that we took turns stoking by blowing air through a rod into the flames. The beans were roasted in the pot with one of us constantly stirring them around, and near the end some sugar was added to give them extra flavor.

Roasting our own batch of coffee!

My face when Wade said that between the two of us, he’s the chef 🙂

When the beans were nice and black and the air smelled ridiculously good, the beans were poured into a basket where we stirred them around as they cooled down.

Cooling off the freshly roasted beans.

Then we ground the beans, in a hand-cranked grinder the farmer told us was relatively new – his parents had ground the coffee by pounding the beans with a large rock that was in the corner. The smell of the freshly ground coffee was straight up ridiculous.

This smelled amazing.

Just trying to get all the coffee smells.

We enjoyed a few cups while simultaneously enjoying the view of all the farms dotting the valley of the cloud forest. What a peaceful way to spend the afternoon!

Pouring the coffee!

Cesar, Wade and I enjoying the coffee we’d just made.

But wait…it gets better. In what can only be described as a view taken straight out of Jurassic Park (the first movie, obviously!) were the hot springs of Santa Teresa. These weren’t hot springs that smelled like old eggs or had murky water, either – the pools spaced along the edge of the cliff had hot spring water and cold mountain water constantly circling through and out of them, with a small waterfall of freezing cold water where you could cool off. If you want your trip to be romantic, you should definitely go here. Just saying. You’re welcome.

The hot springs.

The next morning started bright and early at 5am, with our last delicious breakfast from our chef before climbing up for a few hours.

So much green! So many ferns! Bamboo! Vines! Wow!

Taking a chill break nearing the top of the mountain

At the top of the mountain, we had our first view through clearing clouds of Machu Picchu, across the valley and Urubamba river far below us! It was so incredible to see these ruins from far away…we marveled at how long it took for them to be discovered after the last Incas fell to the Spanish around 500 years ago. It’s absolutely amazing that they were discovered at all, however, because of how overgrown they were at the time, how high up and protected the city was, and how the ever-changing cloud forest often completely obscured any view of the lost city.

Machu Picchu is tucked into the tiny “flat” section near the left of the mountains you see in the photo.

Just another absolutely awesome model shot of Wade.

We learned that although Hiram Bingham was given a lot of credit for “discovering” Machu Picchu, he wasn’t actually the first to find it. Farmers in the area knew it was there, and another explorer from Cusco had found it as well. However, Hiram was the one who brought in the archeological team and made it famous to the world (and stole artifacts, some of which were only recently returned, by the way. Seems like a great guy!) so he gets much of the credit. Either way, I’m just grateful the Spanish didn’t know about it’s existence when they took over Cusco, because they destroyed (or converted to Catholic churches) most of the Quechua culture, while Machu Picchu, thankfully, remained intact.

Happy dance now that we’d seen how close we were to Machu Picchu!

We started to climb down and on our way saw the incredible Inca ruins of Llactapata, a site thought to have been used for ceremonies along the Inca trail we were hiking. It was interesting to see that a lot of these stones were placed using mortar, in opposition to the perfectly aligned stones of Sacsayhuaman. As the Incas became more advanced over time, they figured out how to make these virtually seamless walls, so any earlier work (or less important work, such as houses where the less important people lived at the time) were not as perfect looking and used mortar. It was so cool to see what was important to the Incas (usually, religious sites) by the quality of their buildings!

Llactapata ruins, the uncovered part.

Part of Llactapata, still overgrown and covered by nature!

The view of the mountains with Llactapata at our back. Basically, views on views this entire trek.

Wade, “golfing” his way over to Machu Picchu.

By the time we made it down the other side of the mountain and along the river to the hydroelectric plant we had the choice. We’d either walk for 1.5-2 hours along the railway or catch a train to the town of Aguas Calientes, or as it’s recently been renamed, Machu Picchu Pueblo. Either name still works – everyone will know what you’re talking about. It was astounding, the difference between this town and the ones we’d passed through on our hike…tourism to this area had made Aguas Calientes a bustling town filled with restaurants and hotels. The bumpy dirt road gave way to beautiful walking paths and paved streets. In a very happy twist of events, our original hotel had overbooked and offered us a free upgrade to the Inkaterra Pueblo hotel, the nicest hotel in town, and that was more than ok by us! After walking 7.5 hours that day a hot shower, incredible food and tea while strolling through their orchid gardens was a perfect end to the day. Needless to say, we felt pretty spoiled, but enjoyed every second of it!

I can’t even tell you how awesome a hot shower and getting off my feet felt! Wow!

There were hummingbirds everywhere in the hotel gardens. I loved watching them!

So here’s the part that’s new about visiting Machu Picchu – due to the number of people from all around the world who want to visit, you have to get your permit ahead of time (especially if you want to hike Huayna Picchu, the steep mountain overlooking the city) and now the permits come with an entry time. Once you enter, you’re supposed to leave after 3 hours, so that it’s not overcrowded for any group of people. Although to be honest, around 4 in the afternoon it was much less busy, so if you want the clear photo…do the afternoon!

Me, “getting the shot”, without a whole lot of other people at 4pm.

The entry time system was awesome because instead of a crazy bus line starting at 5am, we were able to enjoy a nice breakfast and then get in line behind the 8am entry sign, avoiding a lot of waiting and stress to get up there in time. When we arrived the city was socked in by fog and clouds, and it was easy to see how Machu Picchu had evaded attention for so many years…you just couldn’t see the dang thing!

A slightly spooky ghost village! This is the part where the normal people lived.

Wade, looking out the windows from the Guard Hut.

Wade and I, without any other tourists in the background. Haha, just kidding! Just accept early on that you will have tourists in your photos and you will enjoy your visit a whole lot more!

Honestly, the fog swirling around made it feel pretty mystical and slightly creepy, which I loved. It was really cool to see more and more of the ruins uncovered as the sun burned through the fog, and by 11am it was fully sunny out!

A side view to show just how many levels of terraces there were, supporting Machu Picchu and preventing slides!

Loving the fog in the mountains.

Cesar showed us around the ruins, and it was so cool to see the different parts of the city and how it functioned. One of the coolest things were the water channels built into the mountain to move natural spring water at exactly the right grade in order to provide a constant flow of water to the city year round. It’s so impressive how smart the Incas were and how they worked with nature, not against it!

I’m 5’4”, so myself and all the other Hobbits fit right into the building plans! Where the normal citizens lived, the doorways were not that tall!

One of the many water channels flowing through the city.

We hiked Huayna Picchu (pronounced “why-nah pee-choo”), and it was relatively short compared to what we’d been walking every day, but fun in how steep and exposed it was. The view looking down on Machu Picchu was very cool, and even better after we’d learned more about it so we could see how the city planning worked from above!

A bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham, or maybe that’s Wade.

On the tippy top of Huayna Picchu!

On your way back down from Huayna Picchu, you will need to crawl through a small cave. I thought this might be pertinent to mention because clearly, some folks behind us were unaware of the cave part, and “I don’t like this I don’t like this I DON’T LIKE THIS” echoed behind us for a little while as they scooted their way through.

I, however, DID like the cave!

Happy and hungry hikers (with Huayna Picchu behind us)

After our hike we ate a pretty incredible meal at the Sanctuary Lodge (the only place up on the mountain, right outside the entrance gate) before heading back in for the afternoon. It started to rain, which felt awesome and cooled us off as we hiked up to the sun gate, which was opposite Huayna Picchu. This was where the Incas, after hiking from Cusco via the famous Inca trail, would have had their first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

The Inca trail and a view from the opposite side of Machu Picchu.

Hiding from the rain, with the Sun Gate in the background.

Because this is the cloud forest, after all, the rain and clouds cleared within the hour and we were treated to a breathtaking golden hour (and a half…it was a long golden hour) as the sun started to lower.

Gorgeous.

We had a train back to Cusco that evening, so we had planned to take a bus down to Aguas Calientes. But as Cesar had warned us, the lines for the buses on the way down aren’t regulated by an entry time, so it can be a little crazy. We were nervous about making it back in time, so we hiked back down (ahhh! MORE stairs!) and had time to get an ice cream (ok, so the stairs were worth it after all) before boarding the train back and flying back home the following day.

My recommendation, if it works for your travel plans? Stay in Aguas Calientes another night. Go up with a guided tour of Machu Picchu in the morning to learn all about the city, and even if there’s clouds or fog in the morning, don’t worry – it will clear up. Hike Huayna Picchu for sure, then have lunch at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge or pack your own picnic. Then have an afternoon permit so that you can do another entrance with any extra hikes you want to do – the Sun Gate was particularly cool, and doesn’t require a permit! That way you can enjoy and explore without feeling rushed, and if you get skunked on the weather for one entrance time, you have another. Stay for the sunset (around 5pm), and hopefully the bus line will be less crazy than it was for us. If not, it’s only an hour walk down to town and you won’t be worried about catching a train because you have another night to enjoy before your travel back to Cusco and home!

Wade and I walking along the coast in Lima on our travel day home.

On our travel home, we had a 14 hour layover in Lima, and here’s what I’d definitely recommend if you also have a long layover! Check your bags in “stored luggage”, the blue wall at the far end of baggage claim. It’s only $13 to store a bag for the day and it’s worth it to not haul it around the city! Then catch the Airport Express bus to the Miraflores district. The bus is safe and cheap, and they have a guide on the bus who will tell you when it’s your stop based on what hotel (or restaurant) you want to get off at. Definitely, definitely, absolutely, FOR SURE get yourself a reservation and eat at Amáz, a restaurant that pulls fresh food from the rainforest and surrounding area into their meals and serves a creative take on dessert that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys good things in life. Then walk along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the ocean, watch the surfers below or just wander around looking at the unique houses!

River snails for appetizers at Amaz…these were tasty little buggers!

Overall, this was such an incredible experience for Wade and I. I loved getting to see a totally new part of the world, someplace where ski racing will never take me. I was excited to learn more about their culture and history! I felt so at home in the Andes mountains, and the culture I got to experience and the people we met made a lasting impression. If you get the chance to visit someday, enjoy every second of it!

Loving it!

But wait! One more thing. The gear guide, for those of you who might be planning a trip and are looking for recommendations on what to bring. We put a lot of thought into what we were packing as we didn’t check a bag, and here’s the list of what we loved best! I’ve linked to the women’s version of all these, but guys, it should be pretty easy to find yours too.

The day packs: Because sweaty backs are gross (and I should know, I sweat for my job), get yourself a nice pack. These light and small backpacks kept us cool but also held all the essential gear for the day. Women’s Trekker Air Carry Pack by LL Bean

The hiking boots: Wow. I can’t say enough how incredible these were. I have pretty rough feet (flat, bone spurs, weird poky bones, just gross in general) and these got me though full days of hiking with zero issues. Wow, wow, wow. Quest Prime GTX W by Salomon.

The water filter: For those times when you don’t want to trust the water, this was incredibly fast and light to carry. Katadyn BeFree Water Filter from LL Bean

The first aid kit: for peace of mind (also bring anti-diarrhia meds and ibuprofin pills, just in case). Adventure Medial Kit from LL Bean.

The sleeping bag liners: renting sleeping bags is awesome…and so is having your own liner to put in it. Enough said. You’ll need the liner to add warmth when you’re camping up high, and when you’re in the rainforest you may want to sleep in only the liner to stay cool. Sea to Summit Thermalite liner from LL Bean

The portable pillows: in line with the “Gucci camping” experience of having amazing food and horses to carry our equipment…why not actually get a good night’s sleep, as well? We loved these little blow-up pillows. Sea to Summit inflatable pillow from LL Bean

The packable hoodie: We went through a LOT of different climates. We didn’t always need this layer, but when we did, we REALLY did. As a bonus, it was very cute. Primaloft Packaway Hooded Jacket by LL Bean

The light tank top: A mesh back was amazing, especially hiking with a pack on! Light and breathable, and also cute. Thanks, Salomon. Comet Breeze Tank 

The hiking shorts: These went up and over mountains, no problem…all while fitting a phone into the side pocket. Agile Short by Salomon.

The zip-off hiking pants: They’re pants. Nope, now they’re shorts. They’re convertible without needing to actually take your pants off. Genius. Vista Zip off pants by LL Bean

The raincoat: Armpit zippers, light and breathable fabric, cute. Need I say more? Nope. Tek O2 Element Jacket by LL Bean

The rain pants: Incredibly light and easy to roll up into the bottom of my day pack, these were awesome for the sudden showers. Lightning Race WP pant by Salomon

The wear-on-the-plane or around the camp pants: So cute. So light. So cozy. Comet Pant by Salomon

The sweater: don’t be silly, buy one with Llamas on it when you get there.

I’ll stop just shy of recommending hiking underpants as well (although, you know…pack a lot, or be prepared to do sink laundry). Happy camping!

The inside guide to Peru, part two!

I’m back! Ready for part two of the Salkantay trek, and Machu Picchu? Picking up where I left off, we woke up nice and early (thanks to Heihei the slightly confused rooster, whom I still haven’t forgiven), and started our third day with…a van ride!

Only in Peru does the graffiti feature…Llamas?!? (photo from Cesar)

Cesar had learned the night before that there had been a huge landslide that took out the hiking path we were supposed to go on a few weeks ago. They had dug out a new path through the slide, but just three days ago it slid once again, and thank goodness for our guide figuring that out ahead of time! We said goodbye to the horses and the porters who had taken care of them, and took a car on the bumpy dirt road across the part of the valley that was most prone to landslides. While Wade and I were stunned by the jaw-dropping cliffs that our left wheels were only inches away from, neither Cesar nor our driver were the least bit fazed. “Slides are very frequent around here!” the driver told us, in a gross understatement. We lost track of how many slides we saw, and how many times we drove through a slide that had been bulldozed to clear a narrow path for cars. This. Was. Epic! Again, like I said…they just make them tougher in the Andes.

I don’t have photos from our car ride, but the road we walked after was gorgeous and full of flowers!

After almost an hour’s drive, we got out of the car and walked the rest of the way to the small village of Lucmabamba, or, as Wade would pronounce it…”luuuk-at-mah-bumba”. We loved this place.

Layers on layers of green!

Little campsites were offered along the single dirt road that was the main road, and most campsites were also small plantations that grew anything from coffee to bananas, passionfruit, guavas, avocados, yucca, corn, plantains and potatoes.

Much smarter chickens lived at our campsite with us this time around.

Our campsite for night 3 of the trek!

If you have the chance, I highly recommend the place we camped at, Flor de Cafe. The adorable couple there grow and make their own coffee (some of which we brought back with us! Don’t tell US Customs!) but the best part was that the owner gave us an awesome tour of his farm, explaining how he cares for and grows each plant and letting us pick and then eat a variety of things!

Picking avocados with a long pole attached to a basket.

I had tasted passionfruit juice before, but never peeled and eaten one fresh, and it became my favorite snack. After breaking the harder shell and peeling away the soft white almost fuzzy stuff around the fruit, you get this wobbly, clear jello-like mass of seeds, each surrounded by juicy little blobs of fruit. It was as if a pomegranite, a jelly fish and chia pudding decided to join forces inside this bright yellow shell. “Like a monkey brain!” Cesar told us, “just suck it out, break the fruit in your mouth but don’t crunch the seeds and swallow it!”’ That was one delicious monkey brain.

Yucca root!

But first, coffee.

We picked a number of coffee fruits from one of the many Arabica trees on his farm, then brought them over to the cement bins where the farmer would hand crank the wheel of the machine that separated the red skin of the fruit from the beans within, the skin falling to the back and the beans dropping to the floor of the container. I had no idea how exactly coffee was made before this (I gathered the roasting the green beans and grinding part, but the steps before that were a mystery to me) and it was surprising to me to learn that when I put a fresh green bean in my mouth it was covered by a sweet sort of sap, a film covering the bean.

Ripe coffee fruit is red, and the beans inside it are green.

Our new farmer friend holding the Arabica coffee tree as we picked the ripe fruits.

Wade operating the machine that separated the shell from the beans.

Honestly, we were having way too much fun with this!

Then came the part we cheated because we didn’t actually have three days; the farmer explained that he would fill the basin with water and the beans that floated to the top were bad, and were scooped out. The rest would be thoroughly washed, then dried out for three days before the light shell covering the bean was taken off.

The red shell, the slimy green beans, and in the pan the beans that had been washed then dried out.

When you were left with just the dried green beans, this is the stage where many coffee companies purchase the beans from this area of the world and roast them themselves. This is when we took a bunch of the beans over to a corner of the farmer’s covered stone patio, where a small pot was placed over a fire that we took turns stoking by blowing air through a rod into the flames. The beans were roasted in the pot with one of us constantly stirring them around, and near the end some sugar was added to give them extra flavor.

Roasting our own batch of coffee!

My face when Wade said that between the two of us, he’s the chef 🙂

When the beans were nice and black and the air smelled ridiculously good, the beans were poured into a basket where we stirred them around as they cooled down.

Cooling off the freshly roasted beans.

Then we ground the beans, in a hand-cranked grinder the farmer told us was relatively new – his parents had ground the coffee by pounding the beans with a large rock that was in the corner. The smell of the freshly ground coffee was straight up ridiculous.

This smelled amazing.

Just trying to get all the coffee smells.

We enjoyed a few cups while simultaneously enjoying the view of all the farms dotting the valley of the cloud forest. What a peaceful way to spend the afternoon!

Pouring the coffee!

Cesar, Wade and I enjoying the coffee we’d just made.

But wait…it gets better. In what can only be described as a view taken straight out of Jurassic Park (the first movie, obviously!) were the hot springs of Santa Teresa. These weren’t hot springs that smelled like old eggs or had murky water, either – the pools spaced along the edge of the cliff had hot spring water and cold mountain water constantly circling through and out of them, with a small waterfall of freezing cold water where you could cool off. If you want your trip to be romantic, you should definitely go here. Just saying. You’re welcome.

The hot springs.

The next morning started bright and early at 5am, with our last delicious breakfast from our chef before climbing up for a few hours.

So much green! So many ferns! Bamboo! Vines! Wow!

Taking a chill break nearing the top of the mountain

At the top of the mountain, we had our first view through clearing clouds of Machu Picchu, across the valley and Urubamba river far below us! It was so incredible to see these ruins from far away…we marveled at how long it took for them to be discovered after the last Incas fell to the Spanish around 500 years ago. It’s absolutely amazing that they were discovered at all, however, because of how overgrown they were at the time, how high up and protected the city was, and how the ever-changing cloud forest often completely obscured any view of the lost city.

Machu Picchu is tucked into the tiny “flat” section near the left of the mountains you see in the photo.

Just another absolutely awesome model shot of Wade.

We learned that although Hiram Bingham was given a lot of credit for “discovering” Machu Picchu, he wasn’t actually the first to find it. Farmers in the area knew it was there, and another explorer from Cusco had found it as well. However, Hiram was the one who brought in the archeological team and made it famous to the world (and stole artifacts, some of which were only recently returned, by the way. Seems like a great guy!) so he gets much of the credit. Either way, I’m just grateful the Spanish didn’t know about it’s existence when they took over Cusco, because they destroyed (or converted to Catholic churches) most of the Quechua culture, while Machu Picchu, thankfully, remained intact.

Happy dance now that we’d seen how close we were to Machu Picchu!

We started to climb down and on our way saw the incredible Inca ruins of Llactapata, a site thought to have been used for ceremonies along the Inca trail we were hiking. It was interesting to see that a lot of these stones were placed using mortar, in opposition to the perfectly aligned stones of Sacsayhuaman. As the Incas became more advanced over time, they figured out how to make these virtually seamless walls, so any earlier work (or less important work, such as houses where the less important people lived at the time) were not as perfect looking and used mortar. It was so cool to see what was important to the Incas (usually, religious sites) by the quality of their buildings!

Llactapata ruins, the uncovered part.

Part of Llactapata, still overgrown and covered by nature!

The view of the mountains with Llactapata at our back. Basically, views on views this entire trek.

Wade, “golfing” his way over to Machu Picchu.

By the time we made it down the other side of the mountain and along the river to the hydroelectric plant we had the choice. We’d either walk for 1.5-2 hours along the railway or catch a train to the town of Aguas Calientes, or as it’s recently been renamed, Machu Picchu Pueblo. Either name still works – everyone will know what you’re talking about. It was astounding, the difference between this town and the ones we’d passed through on our hike…tourism to this area had made Aguas Calientes a bustling town filled with restaurants and hotels. The bumpy dirt road gave way to beautiful walking paths and paved streets. In a very happy twist of events, our original hotel had overbooked and offered us a free upgrade to the Inkaterra Pueblo hotel, the nicest hotel in town, and that was more than ok by us! After walking 7.5 hours that day a hot shower, incredible food and tea while strolling through their orchid gardens was a perfect end to the day. Needless to say, we felt pretty spoiled, but enjoyed every second of it!

I can’t even tell you how awesome a hot shower and getting off my feet felt! Wow!

There were hummingbirds everywhere in the hotel gardens. I loved watching them!

So here’s the part that’s new about visiting Machu Picchu – due to the number of people from all around the world who want to visit, you have to get your permit ahead of time (especially if you want to hike Huayna Picchu, the steep mountain overlooking the city) and now the permits come with an entry time. Once you enter, you’re supposed to leave after 3 hours, so that it’s not overcrowded for any group of people. Although to be honest, around 4 in the afternoon it was much less busy, so if you want the clear photo…do the afternoon!

Me, “getting the shot”, without a whole lot of other people at 4pm.

The entry time system was awesome because instead of a crazy bus line starting at 5am, we were able to enjoy a nice breakfast and then get in line behind the 8am entry sign, avoiding a lot of waiting and stress to get up there in time. When we arrived the city was socked in by fog and clouds, and it was easy to see how Machu Picchu had evaded attention for so many years…you just couldn’t see the dang thing!

A slightly spooky ghost village! This is the part where the normal people lived.

Wade, looking out the windows from the Guard Hut.

Wade and I, without any other tourists in the background. Haha, just kidding! Just accept early on that you will have tourists in your photos and you will enjoy your visit a whole lot more!

Honestly, the fog swirling around made it feel pretty mystical and slightly creepy, which I loved. It was really cool to see more and more of the ruins uncovered as the sun burned through the fog, and by 11am it was fully sunny out!

A side view to show just how many levels of terraces there were, supporting Machu Picchu and preventing slides!

Loving the fog in the mountains.

Cesar showed us around the ruins, and it was so cool to see the different parts of the city and how it functioned. One of the coolest things were the water channels built into the mountain to move natural spring water at exactly the right grade in order to provide a constant flow of water to the city year round. It’s so impressive how smart the Incas were and how they worked with nature, not against it!

I’m 5’4”, so myself and all the other Hobbits fit right into the building plans! Where the normal citizens lived, the doorways were not that tall!

One of the many water channels flowing through the city.

We hiked Huayna Picchu (pronounced “why-nah pee-choo”), and it was relatively short compared to what we’d been walking every day, but fun in how steep and exposed it was. The view looking down on Machu Picchu was very cool, and even better after we’d learned more about it so we could see how the city planning worked from above!

A bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham, or maybe that’s Wade.

On the tippy top of Huayna Picchu!

On your way back down from Huayna Picchu, you will need to crawl through a small cave. I thought this might be pertinent to mention because clearly, some folks behind us were unaware of the cave part, and “I don’t like this I don’t like this I DON’T LIKE THIS” echoed behind us for a little while as they scooted their way through.

I, however, DID like the cave!

Happy and hungry hikers (with Huayna Picchu behind us)

After our hike we ate a pretty incredible meal at the Sanctuary Lodge (the only place up on the mountain, right outside the entrance gate) before heading back in for the afternoon. It started to rain, which felt awesome and cooled us off as we hiked up to the sun gate, which was opposite Huayna Picchu. This was where the Incas, after hiking from Cusco via the famous Inca trail, would have had their first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

The Inca trail and a view from the opposite side of Machu Picchu.

Hiding from the rain, with the Sun Gate in the background.

Because this is the cloud forest, after all, the rain and clouds cleared within the hour and we were treated to a breathtaking golden hour (and a half…it was a long golden hour) as the sun started to lower.

Gorgeous.

We had a train back to Cusco that evening, so we had planned to take a bus down to Aguas Calientes. But as Cesar had warned us, the lines for the buses on the way down aren’t regulated by an entry time, so it can be a little crazy. We were nervous about making it back in time, so we hiked back down (ahhh! MORE stairs!) and had time to get an ice cream (ok, so the stairs were worth it after all) before boarding the train back and flying back home the following day.

My recommendation, if it works for your travel plans? Stay in Aguas Calientes another night. Go up with a guided tour of Machu Picchu in the morning to learn all about the city, and even if there’s clouds or fog in the morning, don’t worry – it will clear up. Hike Huayna Picchu for sure, then have lunch at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge or pack your own picnic. Then have an afternoon permit so that you can do another entrance with any extra hikes you want to do – the Sun Gate was particularly cool, and doesn’t require a permit! That way you can enjoy and explore without feeling rushed, and if you get skunked on the weather for one entrance time, you have another. Stay for the sunset (around 5pm), and hopefully the bus line will be less crazy than it was for us. If not, it’s only an hour walk down to town and you won’t be worried about catching a train because you have another night to enjoy before your travel back to Cusco and home!

Wade and I walking along the coast in Lima on our travel day home.

On our travel home, we had a 14 hour layover in Lima, and here’s what I’d definitely recommend if you also have a long layover! Check your bags in “stored luggage”, the blue wall at the far end of baggage claim. It’s only $13 to store a bag for the day and it’s worth it to not haul it around the city! Then catch the Airport Express bus to the Miraflores district. The bus is safe and cheap, and they have a guide on the bus who will tell you when it’s your stop based on what hotel (or restaurant) you want to get off at. Definitely, definitely, absolutely, FOR SURE get yourself a reservation and eat at Amáz, a restaurant that pulls fresh food from the rainforest and surrounding area into their meals and serves a creative take on dessert that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys good things in life. Then walk along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the ocean, watch the surfers below or just wander around looking at the unique houses!

River snails for appetizers at Amaz…these were tasty little buggers!

Overall, this was such an incredible experience for Wade and I. I loved getting to see a totally new part of the world, someplace where ski racing will never take me. I was excited to learn more about their culture and history! I felt so at home in the Andes mountains, and the culture I got to experience and the people we met made a lasting impression. If you get the chance to visit someday, enjoy every second of it!

Loving it!

But wait! One more thing. The gear guide, for those of you who might be planning a trip and are looking for recommendations on what to bring. We put a lot of thought into what we were packing as we didn’t check a bag, and here’s the list of what we loved best! I’ve linked to the women’s version of all these, but guys, it should be pretty easy to find yours too.

The day packs: Because sweaty backs are gross (and I should know, I sweat for my job), get yourself a nice pack. These light and small backpacks kept us cool but also held all the essential gear for the day. Women’s Trekker Air Carry Pack by LL Bean

The hiking boots: Wow. I can’t say enough how incredible these were. I have pretty rough feet (flat, bone spurs, weird poky bones, just gross in general) and these got me though full days of hiking with zero issues. Wow, wow, wow. Quest Prime GTX W by Salomon.

The water filter: For those times when you don’t want to trust the water, this was incredibly fast and light to carry. Katadyn BeFree Water Filter from LL Bean

The first aid kit: for peace of mind (also bring anti-diarrhia meds and ibuprofin pills, just in case). Adventure Medial Kit from LL Bean.

The sleeping bag liners: renting sleeping bags is awesome…and so is having your own liner to put in it. Enough said. You’ll need the liner to add warmth when you’re camping up high, and when you’re in the rainforest you may want to sleep in only the liner to stay cool. Sea to Summit Thermalite liner from LL Bean

The portable pillows: in line with the “Gucci camping” experience of having amazing food and horses to carry our equipment…why not actually get a good night’s sleep, as well? We loved these little blow-up pillows. Sea to Summit inflatable pillow from LL Bean

The packable hoodie: We went through a LOT of different climates. We didn’t always need this layer, but when we did, we REALLY did. As a bonus, it was very cute. Primaloft Packaway Hooded Jacket by LL Bean

The light tank top: A mesh back was amazing, especially hiking with a pack on! Light and breathable, and also cute. Thanks, Salomon. Comet Breeze Tank 

The hiking shorts: These went up and over mountains, no problem…all while fitting a phone into the side pocket. Agile Short by Salomon.

The zip-off hiking pants: They’re pants. Nope, now they’re shorts. They’re convertible without needing to actually take your pants off. Genius. Vista Zip off pants by LL Bean

The raincoat: Armpit zippers, light and breathable fabric, cute. Need I say more? Nope. Tek O2 Element Jacket by LL Bean

The rain pants: Incredibly light and easy to roll up into the bottom of my day pack, these were awesome for the sudden showers. Lightning Race WP pant by Salomon

The wear-on-the-plane or around the camp pants: So cute. So light. So cozy. Comet Pant by Salomon

The sweater: don’t be silly, buy one with Llamas on it when you get there.

I’ll stop just shy of recommending hiking underpants as well (although, you know…pack a lot, or be prepared to do sink laundry). Happy camping!

The guide to a crazy fun Peru trip, part 1

Wade and I just returned from an absolutely incredible trip in Peru, stopping in Boston for a quick 20 hours before joining his family on their vacation in San Diego for a few days. Getting the chance to fully re-set and recharge my batteries? Glorious. Not checking email for two weeks? Terrifying (and glorious).

Loved the sun and sand time!

Even better than the beach? Time with Wade and his family!

I’ve had so many people reach out with questions about the trip that I wanted to write a little guide, a rundown of the places we saw and what the Salkantay trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu was like. Then I realized that “a little guide” just wasn’t going to cut it…I like to talk way too much to keep this short. So without further rambling, here’s part one of our trip to Peru!

The goal? Machu Picchu!

First off, the planning. Once we decided that we really wanted to see Machu Picchu and hike through the Andes mountains in Peru, we weren’t sure exactly how to plan the details! We decided to plan our trip through Global Basecamps, and they were truly awesome. Could we have set this trip up ourselves? Probably, but we had a lot of questions about the area, had no idea what to expect for the weather or how to pack when going through 16 climate zones on our planned hiking route, don’t speak Spanish fluently, and didn’t want to be stressed out about the details. We just wanted to enjoy our trip! As soon as we reached out to them they were incredibly helpful and answered all our questions, then helped us plan the trip so we could make the most out of the time we had, and see everything we hoped to see! We didn’t have to worry about setting up taxis (there are a lot of warnings in the airport about taxi scams), booking a good hotel right near the old part of town, or renting good camping gear. Perhaps most importantly, they work with local tour groups and set us up with the most incredible guide, Cesar, who really made the experience an incredible one for us. I’d definitely recommend going through them if you are looking to plan a trip. If you’d like to see more about them, here’s the LINK to their website!

Thanks to Global Basecamps for helping us find the most incredible guide, Cesar!

A note about travel: I can’t lie to you, it’s probably going to be a long series of flights. But it’s absolutely worth it, I promise! But here’s a little tip to hopefully make your travel day easier than ours was. I take great care to only recommend brands, companies and experiences that I truly believe are good, and I don’t want to lead anyone astray. For that reason I can’t in good conscience recommend that you fly Air Canada, as we had some pretty rough experiences with them and watched as way too many people were denied boarding our last flight back to Boston due to them overselling the seats. But luckily there’s a lot of options to get down to Peru, and once you’re there you don’t have to deal with jet lag from the time change, which is a really nice bonus.

The Plaza de Armas, the main square in Cusco. The flag of Peru is on the left, the rainbow flag on the right representing Cusco.

We started our trip with a day in Cusco, to explore and basically eat all the ceviche we could find. We were traveling over Easter week, so when we left our hotel to go walk around town we saw hundreds of people out on the steps of the church for Palm Sunday. Every ten feet, ladies were selling sweet empanadas and dulce de leche tamales (both were tasty) and the main square, Plaza de Armas, was packed with families, both tourist and local, enjoying the warm weather. I learned that a knowing a few words in Spanish was very helpful (thanks, grade school and junior high Spanish classes!). Beyond the usual “please and thank you”, it was especially handy when asking “where’s the restaurant with the best ceviche?”,  “where is the toilet, please”, or understanding how many soles the man in the market was asking for the red sweater with the llamas on it.

Families enjoying the sunshine in the square!

If you have a day in Cusco, here’s your need to know:

-Try the street food! If you’re nervous about it, start with the sweets; churros, sweet empanadas and sweet tamales were pretty outstanding.

Yum!

-Walk around both the open air and covered markets, and whatever you do, definitely sit at one of the juice counters and try their fruit juice. They will peel the fruit right in front of you and blend it up, no water added…and it’s incredible.

One of about 20 juice counters lined up in the markets.

-While you’re at the markets, check out all the adorable sweaters that scream “I’m a TOURIST!” It’s ok, just embrace it. You ARE a tourist. Don’t fight it. You can get more expensive sweaters that are made from 100% baby alpaca (meaning the first time they cut their hair, so it’s the softest and not as wiry or itchy), although most of what you’ll find in the markets is a blend, and they’re incredibly cheap.

You’re a tourist. So what? Embrace it!

-Besides the art you see woven into sweaters and blankets, there are many other mediums of art all over the city! Wade and I loved walking around looking at the local artists beautiful creations, and I’d recommend taking the extra few minutes to poke your head into the tiny shops tucked into the walls, because you can find some beautiful things hidden there!

Exploring the outside of a Spanish church in Cusco

-Being fueled by tourism, many places accept credit cards. If they don’t, they are within walking distance of an ATM.

Flowers on flowers! Probably a good idea to have cash (soles) on hand for most market items.

-Oh my gosh, don’t even get me started on the food. We literally couldn’t find a bad place to eat there. Every place we tried, the food was so fresh and delicious! For more Peruvian food, try Limo or Ceviche, both located in the main square of Plaza de Armas. For food that’s definitely catering to tourists but with a fun and fresh Peruvian twist, go to Jack’s (bring cash, they don’t take cards) or Pacha Papas.

Quinoa finds its way into most dishes, and it’s delicious.

And can we talk about the fact that we were walking around the Andes mountains chewing cocaine leaves? Relax, it’s ok. Technically, we were chewing coca leaves, the plant that cocaine is made from, but in it’s raw form without being chemically altered the human body can’t absorb the cocaine. You can (and do) absorb about 4 cups of coffee worth of caffeine, though! We learned that after a big breakfast, farmers in the area go to work all day with just a bunch of these coca leaves for energy. Whoa!

Coca are used to help with altitude sickness as well, all the locals told us. I mean…”when in Rome”, right? We tried the coca tea, and later tried chewing the leaves plain. In case you’re wondering, it tasted somewhat like green tea. Despite this, Wade had a headache our first night in Cusco, which makes sense given that it’s at 9,000 feet. What we didn’t know was that this altitude headache would be a warning for later….cue the dramatic and foreboding music!

Just another beautiful church in Cusco…you tired of these yet?

Our second day in Cusco we drove to some incredible Inca ruins only 20 minutes out of town, called (you’re going to love this): Sacsayhuaman, pronounced “sac-saaaaaay-whoooooomaaaaan”. Or, if you’re really not going to try the accent, “sexy woman”. The stonework of the Incas was truly awe-inspiring, especially when we learned that the stone used in Sacsayhuaman had been moved there from over 10 kilometers away. These huge rocks were rolled into place and slowly chipped away until they fit together so tight, you couldn’t even slide a piece of paper in between them!

Those are some HUGE rocks! Wow! Wade and I in Sacsayhuaman.

Going into one of the ruins

This was where they may have made some of the mummies of the Inca royalty when they died. So cool, so creepy, all at the same time!

The windows at the top, where the stonework is finest, were for the Sun God.

They’ve withstood earthquakes that took the colonizing Spanish’s churches to the ground, but these Inca walls are still standing, in the ruins outside the city but also spread out throughout Cusco as well. When the Spanish came in, they destroyed or converted to Catholic churches much of the Inca’s work, but built right overtop of some of it. So as you’re walking around town, you’ll see a section of Inca wall or a few stones built into a house.

Hiding in plain sight…Inca stonework!

Look at the rock to the right of Wade – it’s touching 12 other rocks. Imagine fitting those together with only other rocks as tools! Wow!

That night was the “Lord of the Earthquake” celebration in Cusco. We had quickly learned that the overwhelming majority of Cusco is Catholic, and this was a very important week for them. But nothing was more important than this celebration, to honor the earthquake Lord, as the people there were Catholic but (as it was explained to us) still believed in the forces of nature and needed to respect them. The Plaza de Armas filled with people as the evening turned into night and people pressed close to see a glimpse of the flashing tall red figure, the solitary Lord in the parade, as it moved about an inch per minute through the streets of town. Wade and I had dinner in a balcony to watch the entire thing and it was so special to see what was clearly a very important part of the Quechua culture! Then we got to bed early because the next day, the trek I’d been so excited for was about to begin.

That’s a lot of people!

Wade and I enjoying the Lord of the Earthquake festivities.

A note about our hike: we had decided that since this was a vacation, after all, and we didn’t know anything about the Andes mountains, we’d go on a guided hike. This meant that porters bring the camping equipment, food and clean water for you on a horse and you only have to hike with a day pack. I would highly recommend this. While it’s also fun and a cool adventure to bring everything totally by yourself, I could see where hiking at 15,000 feet of altitude with a 40lb pack and not getting to learn any cool facts about the area you’re exploring would sort of…well…not really feel like much of a vacation! By going with a guided tour, we were able to learn more and stress less. As it turned out, we were the only two booked for this specific tour at this time of year, so we lucked out with a private tour!

One cool thing we learned from Cesar was that if a doorway was incredibly tall, like this one, it was for Incas – the royal people, who would be carried in on a litter. The Quechua people had regular sized doorways and houses.

Our first day of the Salkantay trek began at 6am. I would later learn that nearly every day would begin this early, because by 6am it was light outside and by 6pm it was fairly dark, so by waking up around 5-5:30 and starting each day’s hike early, you’d avoid a lot of the hot sun and be able to really take your time and enjoy each moment of the hike. This was, after all, a vacation…not a training camp! It was really fun to hike at a leisurely pace that was enjoyable, and although it was still challenging to be hiking over a 15,000 ft pass, we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere!

I learned how to be a morning person. Haha!

We met our guide, Cesar, the chef for our hike and one of the porters at the hotel and drove for three hours through small towns, stopping at Limbatambo for a quick breakfast. Everywhere you looked, there were tiny taxis on three wheels. When I looked closer, I noticed the taxi cab was actually a little bench seat attached to the back of a motorcycle, with a loose frame holding it all together. The driver was essentially just riding a motorcycle inside a car frame. No lack of creativity there!

Check this out: a motorcycle-taxi cab.

After driving up into the mountains, we followed a bumpy dirt road to the grassy flats at the foot of the ice-covered Humantay mountain, an area called Soraypampa, which is where the trail began. This was where we met the other two porters for our trip, who were in charge of the horses that carried the food, water and gear. Everyone was incredibly nice, and although I could only string together a few words in Spanish and talked like a 2 year old trying to learn how to conjugate verbs, they were patient and friendly and let me try to practice my Spanish with them!

The horses that were so helpful in carrying our gear for us!

A note on these totally awesome, badass porters…I loved going through Global Basecamps because they partner with tour companies (in this case, InkaNatura eco travel) that treat the porters extremely well and compensate them fairly. These guys, combined with Cesar’s knowledge and expertise, friendly company and fun facts about not only the archeological ruins but the various birds and plants we saw along the way, totally made the trip for us. I was stunned by how hard-working and tough these guys were in the mountain weather, however, when I learned that after the four day trip, they wake up early the next morning and hike it all the way back to the start in ONE day, where they rest for a day before helping the next hiking group. It seems like the people of the Andes Mountain range are just tougher and more badass than most other people on earth, in pretty much every way! They were impervious to the weather conditions, cheerful in cold rain with no complains when it was hot and humid. They could hike faster than anyone even at 15,000 feet, and knew their way around the cloud forest and high mountain ranges. I like to think I’m in pretty good shape, but if I asked the porters how many hours the hike was, I had to tack on an extra hour for how long it would actually take me to hike it. I know that shirtless cross country skier dude from Tonga gets a lot of attention at the Winter Olympics, but let me tell you…I’d love to get some of these guys and their incredible aerobic capacity on skis!

Some porters from another group saying hi!

Once we got hiking, we started slowing winding our way uphill along the same trail that goes to the Humantay mountain glacier before they split up. Up ahead you could see different tour groups beginning their hikes, and various eco-lodges where hikers not sleeping in tents could spend the night. I would later learn that the term “pampa” referred to a flat area, which is why pretty much anywhere we would be camping would end in “pampa”.

Local families had houses along the way and sold sweaters or food to hiking groups.

We only hiked about an hour and a half uphill that day to Salkantaypampa, which wasn’t a village, but the name for the flat area at the base of the steeper climb up to the Salkantay pass, with a beautiful and imposing view of the ice-crusted south face of Salkantay looming up above us when the fog cleared out.

The clouds started to clear and gave us a view of the south face of Salkantay from our campsite.

We stopped there because it had started to rain pretty hard and the flatter areas for camping up high were flooding out. This ended up being a huge bonus, because at this point we were at 13,500 feet of elevation, which was, you know, just sliiiightly higher than Boston’s sea level air. In fact, it’s the same altitude at which the pilot informed us that we were beginning our decent into Boston on our flight home. Skyjumpers jump out of planes much lower than that. I’m just saying.

Wade had worried that the altitude might pose a potential threat to our trip, but I had brushed it off, saying “it’s nothing! It’s not THAT high!”. Whoops. In a strangely prophetic turn of events, I wasn’t affected at all by the altitude. Which is crazy, because I definitely notice even 5,000 feet when I’m in training camps. Maybe the lack of needing to perform or feel good meant that I just didn’t notice if I wasn’t feeling 100%, but either way, I wasn’t affected by altitude the entire trip. Wade, on the other hand, got hit hard by altitude sickness the moment we drove over 12,000 feet before we even began hiking. I felt horrible, because it looked pretty miserable, and we were both worried that the trip would be ending soon for him, as it was pretty debilitating. He described it as the pounding headache of a concussion combined with the body ache and nausea of the flu. Luckily, our guide Cesar had been through this hike a time or two, and had pretty much seen it all. They traveled with an emergency tank of oxygen and after a few minutes of breathing more “sea-level air”, Wade felt a little better. I’m not going to lie, that first 30 hours of the hike were rough for him, until we had gone over the pass and defended back down to around 8,000 ft. As it turns out, you can’t predict who will be hit by altitude sickness, or when! But as soon as we got down to easier breathing, Wade was fully back to normal and totally fine. What sort of sorcery is this altitude thing, anyways? Huh? My point here is, don’t miss out on a crazy cool experience like this for fear of altitude sickness unless you already know you are severely affected by it. Wade had an awesome trip as soon as we got lower in altitude, and even when he was in a rough spot he was able to enjoy the scenery and impressive face of Salkantay Mountain.

Even when he was hit hard by the altitude, Wade still had a smile for me!

But back to our camping spot…we made it to the flat area where the porters had already set up our tent, which was incredibly nice as we were both pretty cold and Wade already had a headache from the altitude. However, once the rain cleared up I got out to walk around and it was absolutely gorgeous! The wisps of clouds constantly curling and circling the mountains on either side of us made it feel surreal and (at the risk of sounding totally cheesy) magical.

Our campsite for the first night is at the bottom of the mountain.

Happy that I packed a warmer layer of clothes and rain gear!

Speaking of magic, it was amazing to me what our chef could conjure up in a tent with a pan, a pressure cooker pot, a gas stove and a cutting board that he placed across his knees to chop up vegetables! The food we had every day on this trip was out of this world. Fried garlic bread and vegetable soup, spiced potatoes, quinoa and pan-seared fish, purple corn jelly for dessert…it was both cool and tasty to experience local and traditional foods from the Andes mountains.

Our chef for the hike, working his culinary magic!

The next morning, we got up around 5:30 and after another tasty breakfast (my favorite breakfast of the trip was a quinoa porridge mixed with spices and bananas), packed up and started up towards the Salkantay pass. Wade had a pounding headache and nausea still from altitude sickness (sleeping at 13,500 probably didn’t help this out!) so for that morning he went on horseback, to get up and over the pass and down towards more oxygen as quickly as possible. I followed at a more stop-and-take-all-the-photos pace, and loved every second of the snow capped peaks surrounding us.

Made it up the first steep part of the climb that morning!

Salkantay peak was at a staggering 20,570 ft, but the pass we went over topped out at 15,300 so even as we were looking down at mountains and valleys below us, we were still dwarfed by the imposing Salkantay.

The trail on the left winding up towards the pass.

At the top of the pass, little rock figures were everywhere with coca leaves snugly tucked into the base of them, as offerings to Pachamama, mother earth. I loved how connected to the planet the Quechua people are, and this is probably obvious but whenever we left a campsite, there was no trace that we had been there at all, preserving the beauty of the mountains and the plants of the cloud forest.

Little offerings to Pachamama everywhere.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather this entire trip, especially as in April we were just at the end of their rainy season, and it was impossible to predict weather in the Andes. This bright and sunny morning, however, the clouds completely cleared out for the hour and a half that we were nearing the top of the pass, and we were granted an incredible view down either side of the mountain. Later when we were a few thousand feet down, we looked back up and saw that the pass was completely obscured in fog once again. I’d never been so happy about a 5:30am start to the day before!

Wade and I enjoying a moment at the top!

Wade starting the hike down towards the cloud forest.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen – I cannot say this enough for the top of the pass!

After descending for a few hours we stopped for lunch right at the edge of where the cloud forest began. Fog and clouds were constantly blowing up over the rim of the steep drop down, and the area truly lived up to its name with clouds bringing small rain showers, followed by hot sun, followed by fog and clouds and back to sun again in a manner of minutes. I’ve traveled to a lot of places, and it’s funny to me how in almost every place, a local will jokingly tell me “you know, we have a saying about the weather here! If you don’t like it…wait 5 minutes!” The only people who never made this claim were, perhaps, the only people who truly should have – the Quechua people of the Andes mountains. Never before have I seen such truly ever-changing weather as in the cloud forest, and it was beautiful!

As we hiked down from the pass, we started seeing little potato farms! Up above, Salkantay starts to fog up again.

PIGLET! Not really part of the hike, but adorable, so it made the blog post.

We hiked downhill for hours through cloud forest, the temperature rising as we descended from the 15,300 ft pass to the small village of Collpapampa at 6,850 ft. The lower we got, the more birds we heard, the the trees and plants went from miniature to towering over us, and the more moss and ferns grew in layers, sometimes completely covering the trees!

Hiking through cloud forest (photo from Cesar)

After a lot of downhill hiking we were grateful for a good night’s sleep in the village bordering the Santa Teresa river, the sound of water running extremely peaceful. What I found to be slightly less peaceful was that we were apparently camping with Heihei the chicken from Disney’s Moana movie! This rooster was just a tiny bit confused as to 1.) how to crow like an actual rooster. It sounded like it was being strangled, which ironic because I found myself ready to go cook it and eat it around 4am, (you are not working with a vegan or vegetarian blog here) and 2.) the fact that roosters are supposed to start making noise at dawn, not at 3 in the morning! Both Cesar and I thought it would make a nice dinner, but I guess Heihei belonged to someone, so we left him to continue his confused crowing and figure out daylight savings on his own.

Our campsite the second night – happy to get off our feet after 7.5 hours of hiking!

Part 2 of our Peru trip coming shortly!

The guide to a crazy fun Peru trip, part 1

Wade and I just returned from an absolutely incredible trip in Peru, stopping in Boston for a quick 20 hours before joining his family on their vacation in San Diego for a few days. Getting the chance to fully re-set and recharge my batteries? Glorious. Not checking email for two weeks? Terrifying (and glorious).

Loved the sun and sand time!

Even better than the beach? Time with Wade and his family!

I’ve had so many people reach out with questions about the trip that I wanted to write a little guide, a rundown of the places we saw and what the Salkantay trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu was like. Then I realized that “a little guide” just wasn’t going to cut it…I like to talk way too much to keep this short. So without further rambling, here’s part one of our trip to Peru!

The goal? Machu Picchu!

First off, the planning. Once we decided that we really wanted to see Machu Picchu and hike through the Andes mountains in Peru, we weren’t sure exactly how to plan the details! We decided to plan our trip through Global Basecamps, and they were truly awesome. Could we have set this trip up ourselves? Probably, but we had a lot of questions about the area, had no idea what to expect for the weather or how to pack when going through 16 climate zones on our planned hiking route, don’t speak Spanish fluently, and didn’t want to be stressed out about the details. We just wanted to enjoy our trip! As soon as we reached out to them they were incredibly helpful and answered all our questions, then helped us plan the trip so we could make the most out of the time we had, and see everything we hoped to see! We didn’t have to worry about setting up taxis (there are a lot of warnings in the airport about taxi scams), booking a good hotel right near the old part of town, or renting good camping gear. Perhaps most importantly, they work with local tour groups and set us up with the most incredible guide, Cesar, who really made the experience an incredible one for us. I’d definitely recommend going through them if you are looking to plan a trip. If you’d like to see more about them, here’s the LINK to their website!

Thanks to Global Basecamps for helping us find the most incredible guide, Cesar!

A note about travel: I can’t lie to you, it’s probably going to be a long series of flights. But it’s absolutely worth it, I promise! But here’s a little tip to hopefully make your travel day easier than ours was. I take great care to only recommend brands, companies and experiences that I truly believe are good, and I don’t want to lead anyone astray. For that reason I can’t in good conscience recommend that you fly Air Canada, as we had some pretty rough experiences with them and watched as way too many people were denied boarding our last flight back to Boston due to them overselling the seats. But luckily there’s a lot of options to get down to Peru, and once you’re there you don’t have to deal with jet lag from the time change, which is a really nice bonus.

The Plaza de Armas, the main square in Cusco. The flag of Peru is on the left, the rainbow flag on the right representing Cusco.

We started our trip with a day in Cusco, to explore and basically eat all the ceviche we could find. We were traveling over Easter week, so when we left our hotel to go walk around town we saw hundreds of people out on the steps of the church for Palm Sunday. Every ten feet, ladies were selling sweet empanadas and dulce de leche tamales (both were tasty) and the main square, Plaza de Armas, was packed with families, both tourist and local, enjoying the warm weather. I learned that a knowing a few words in Spanish was very helpful (thanks, grade school and junior high Spanish classes!). Beyond the usual “please and thank you”, it was especially handy when asking “where’s the restaurant with the best ceviche?”,  “where is the toilet, please”, or understanding how many soles the man in the market was asking for the red sweater with the llamas on it.

Families enjoying the sunshine in the square!

If you have a day in Cusco, here’s your need to know:

-Try the street food! If you’re nervous about it, start with the sweets; churros, sweet empanadas and sweet tamales were pretty outstanding.

Yum!

-Walk around both the open air and covered markets, and whatever you do, definitely sit at one of the juice counters and try their fruit juice. They will peel the fruit right in front of you and blend it up, no water added…and it’s incredible.

One of about 20 juice counters lined up in the markets.

-While you’re at the markets, check out all the adorable sweaters that scream “I’m a TOURIST!” It’s ok, just embrace it. You ARE a tourist. Don’t fight it. You can get more expensive sweaters that are made from 100% baby alpaca (meaning the first time they cut their hair, so it’s the softest and not as wiry or itchy), although most of what you’ll find in the markets is a blend, and they’re incredibly cheap.

You’re a tourist. So what? Embrace it!

-Besides the art you see woven into sweaters and blankets, there are many other mediums of art all over the city! Wade and I loved walking around looking at the local artists beautiful creations, and I’d recommend taking the extra few minutes to poke your head into the tiny shops tucked into the walls, because you can find some beautiful things hidden there!

Exploring the outside of a Spanish church in Cusco

-Being fueled by tourism, many places accept credit cards. If they don’t, they are within walking distance of an ATM.

Flowers on flowers! Probably a good idea to have cash (soles) on hand for most market items.

-Oh my gosh, don’t even get me started on the food. We literally couldn’t find a bad place to eat there. Every place we tried, the food was so fresh and delicious! For more Peruvian food, try Limo or Ceviche, both located in the main square of Plaza de Armas. For food that’s definitely catering to tourists but with a fun and fresh Peruvian twist, go to Jack’s (bring cash, they don’t take cards) or Pacha Papas.

Quinoa finds its way into most dishes, and it’s delicious.

And can we talk about the fact that we were walking around the Andes mountains chewing cocaine leaves? Relax, it’s ok. Technically, we were chewing coca leaves, the plant that cocaine is made from, but in it’s raw form without being chemically altered the human body can’t absorb the cocaine. You can (and do) absorb about 4 cups of coffee worth of caffeine, though! We learned that after a big breakfast, farmers in the area go to work all day with just a bunch of these coca leaves for energy. Whoa!

Coca are used to help with altitude sickness as well, all the locals told us. I mean…”when in Rome”, right? We tried the coca tea, and later tried chewing the leaves plain. In case you’re wondering, it tasted somewhat like green tea. Despite this, Wade had a headache our first night in Cusco, which makes sense given that it’s at 9,000 feet. What we didn’t know was that this altitude headache would be a warning for later….cue the dramatic and foreboding music!

Just another beautiful church in Cusco…you tired of these yet?

Our second day in Cusco we drove to some incredible Inca ruins only 20 minutes out of town, called (you’re going to love this): Sacsayhuaman, pronounced “sac-saaaaaay-whoooooomaaaaan”. Or, if you’re really not going to try the accent, “sexy woman”. The stonework of the Incas was truly awe-inspiring, especially when we learned that the stone used in Sacsayhuaman had been moved there from over 10 kilometers away. These huge rocks were rolled into place and slowly chipped away until they fit together so tight, you couldn’t even slide a piece of paper in between them!

Those are some HUGE rocks! Wow! Wade and I in Sacsayhuaman.

Going into one of the ruins

This was where they may have made some of the mummies of the Inca royalty when they died. So cool, so creepy, all at the same time!

The windows at the top, where the stonework is finest, were for the Sun God.

They’ve withstood earthquakes that took the colonizing Spanish’s churches to the ground, but these Inca walls are still standing, in the ruins outside the city but also spread out throughout Cusco as well. When the Spanish came in, they destroyed or converted to Catholic churches much of the Inca’s work, but built right overtop of some of it. So as you’re walking around town, you’ll see a section of Inca wall or a few stones built into a house.

Hiding in plain sight…Inca stonework!

Look at the rock to the right of Wade – it’s touching 12 other rocks. Imagine fitting those together with only other rocks as tools! Wow!

That night was the “Lord of the Earthquake” celebration in Cusco. We had quickly learned that the overwhelming majority of Cusco is Catholic, and this was a very important week for them. But nothing was more important than this celebration, to honor the earthquake Lord, as the people there were Catholic but (as it was explained to us) still believed in the forces of nature and needed to respect them. The Plaza de Armas filled with people as the evening turned into night and people pressed close to see a glimpse of the flashing tall red figure, the solitary Lord in the parade, as it moved about an inch per minute through the streets of town. Wade and I had dinner in a balcony to watch the entire thing and it was so special to see what was clearly a very important part of the Quechua culture! Then we got to bed early because the next day, the trek I’d been so excited for was about to begin.

That’s a lot of people!

Wade and I enjoying the Lord of the Earthquake festivities.

A note about our hike: we had decided that since this was a vacation, after all, and we didn’t know anything about the Andes mountains, we’d go on a guided hike. This meant that porters bring the camping equipment, food and clean water for you on a horse and you only have to hike with a day pack. I would highly recommend this. While it’s also fun and a cool adventure to bring everything totally by yourself, I could see where hiking at 15,000 feet of altitude with a 40lb pack and not getting to learn any cool facts about the area you’re exploring would sort of…well…not really feel like much of a vacation! By going with a guided tour, we were able to learn more and stress less. As it turned out, we were the only two booked for this specific tour at this time of year, so we lucked out with a private tour!

One cool thing we learned from Cesar was that if a doorway was incredibly tall, like this one, it was for Incas – the royal people, who would be carried in on a litter. The Quechua people had regular sized doorways and houses.

Our first day of the Salkantay trek began at 6am. I would later learn that nearly every day would begin this early, because by 6am it was light outside and by 6pm it was fairly dark, so by waking up around 5-5:30 and starting each day’s hike early, you’d avoid a lot of the hot sun and be able to really take your time and enjoy each moment of the hike. This was, after all, a vacation…not a training camp! It was really fun to hike at a leisurely pace that was enjoyable, and although it was still challenging to be hiking over a 15,000 ft pass, we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere!

I learned how to be a morning person. Haha!

We met our guide, Cesar, the chef for our hike and one of the porters at the hotel and drove for three hours through small towns, stopping at Limbatambo for a quick breakfast. Everywhere you looked, there were tiny taxis on three wheels. When I looked closer, I noticed the taxi cab was actually a little bench seat attached to the back of a motorcycle, with a loose frame holding it all together. The driver was essentially just riding a motorcycle inside a car frame. No lack of creativity there!

Check this out: a motorcycle-taxi cab.

After driving up into the mountains, we followed a bumpy dirt road to the grassy flats at the foot of the ice-covered Humantay mountain, an area called Soraypampa, which is where the trail began. This was where we met the other two porters for our trip, who were in charge of the horses that carried the food, water and gear. Everyone was incredibly nice, and although I could only string together a few words in Spanish and talked like a 2 year old trying to learn how to conjugate verbs, they were patient and friendly and let me try to practice my Spanish with them!

The horses that were so helpful in carrying our gear for us!

A note on these totally awesome, badass porters…I loved going through Global Basecamps because they partner with tour companies that treat the porters extremely well and compensate them fairly. These guys, combined with Cesar’s knowledge and expertise, friendly company and fun facts about not only the archeological ruins but the various birds and plants we saw along the way, totally made the trip for us. I was stunned by how hard-working and tough these guys were in the mountain weather, however, when I learned that after the four day trip, they wake up early the next morning and hike it all the way back to the start in ONE day, where they rest for a day before helping the next hiking group. It seems like the people of the Andes Mountain range are just tougher and more badass than most other people on earth, in pretty much every way! They were impervious to the weather conditions, cheerful in cold rain with no complains when it was hot and humid. They could hike faster than anyone even at 15,000 feet, and knew their way around the cloud forest and high mountain ranges. I like to think I’m in pretty good shape, but if I asked the porters how many hours the hike was, I had to tack on an extra hour for how long it would actually take me to hike it. I know that shirtless cross country skier dude from Tonga gets a lot of attention at the Winter Olympics, but let me tell you…I’d love to get some of these guys and their incredible aerobic capacity on skis!

Some porters from another group saying hi!

Once we got hiking, we started slowing winding our way uphill along the same trail that goes to the Humantay mountain glacier before they split up. Up ahead you could see different tour groups beginning their hikes, and various eco-lodges where hikers not sleeping in tents could spend the night. I would later learn that the term “pampa” referred to a flat area, which is why pretty much anywhere we would be camping would end in “pampa”.

Local families had houses along the way and sold sweaters or food to hiking groups.

We only hiked about an hour and a half uphill that day to Salkantaypampa, which wasn’t a village, but the name for the flat area at the base of the steeper climb up to the Salkantay pass, with a beautiful and imposing view of the ice-crusted south face of Salkantay looming up above us when the fog cleared out.

The clouds started to clear and gave us a view of the south face of Salkantay from our campsite.

We stopped there because it had started to rain pretty hard and the flatter areas for camping up high were flooding out. This ended up being a huge bonus, because at this point we were at 13,500 feet of elevation, which was, you know, just sliiiightly higher than Boston’s sea level air. In fact, it’s the same altitude at which the pilot informed us that we were beginning our decent into Boston on our flight home. Skyjumpers jump out of planes much lower than that. I’m just saying.

Wade had worried that the altitude might pose a potential threat to our trip, but I had brushed it off, saying “it’s nothing! It’s not THAT high!”. Whoops. In a strangely prophetic turn of events, I wasn’t affected at all by the altitude. Which is crazy, because I definitely notice even 5,000 feet when I’m in training camps. Maybe the lack of needing to perform or feel good meant that I just didn’t notice if I wasn’t feeling 100%, but either way, I wasn’t affected by altitude the entire trip. Wade, on the other hand, got hit hard by altitude sickness the moment we drove over 12,000 feet before we even began hiking. I felt horrible, because it looked pretty miserable, and we were both worried that the trip would be ending soon for him, as it was pretty debilitating. He described it as the pounding headache of a concussion combined with the body ache and nausea of the flu. Luckily, our guide Cesar had been through this hike a time or two, and had pretty much seen it all. They traveled with an emergency tank of oxygen and after a few minutes of breathing more “sea-level air”, Wade felt a little better. I’m not going to lie, that first 30 hours of the hike were rough for him, until we had gone over the pass and defended back down to around 8,000 ft. As it turns out, you can’t predict who will be hit by altitude sickness, or when! But as soon as we got down to easier breathing, Wade was fully back to normal and totally fine. What sort of sorcery is this altitude thing, anyways? Huh? My point here is, don’t miss out on a crazy cool experience like this for fear of altitude sickness unless you already know you are severely affected by it. Wade had an awesome trip as soon as we got lower in altitude, and even when he was in a rough spot he was able to enjoy the scenery and impressive face of Salkantay Mountain.

Even when he was hit hard by the altitude, Wade still had a smile for me!

But back to our camping spot…we made it to the flat area where the porters had already set up our tent, which was incredibly nice as we were both pretty cold and Wade already had a headache from the altitude. However, once the rain cleared up I got out to walk around and it was absolutely gorgeous! The wisps of clouds constantly curling and circling the mountains on either side of us made it feel surreal and (at the risk of sounding totally cheesy) magical.

Our campsite for the first night is at the bottom of the mountain.

Happy that I packed a warmer layer of clothes and rain gear!

Speaking of magic, it was amazing to me what our chef could conjure up in a tent with a pan, a pressure cooker pot, a gas stove and a cutting board that he placed across his knees to chop up vegetables! The food we had every day on this trip was out of this world. Fried garlic bread and vegetable soup, spiced potatoes, quinoa and pan-seared fish, purple corn jelly for dessert…it was both cool and tasty to experience local and traditional foods from the Andes mountains.

Our chef for the hike, working his culinary magic!

The next morning, we got up around 5:30 and after another tasty breakfast (my favorite breakfast of the trip was a quinoa porridge mixed with spices and bananas), packed up and started up towards the Salkantay pass. Wade had a pounding headache and nausea still from altitude sickness (sleeping at 13,500 probably didn’t help this out!) so for that morning he went on horseback, to get up and over the pass and down towards more oxygen as quickly as possible. I followed at a more stop-and-take-all-the-photos pace, and loved every second of the snow capped peaks surrounding us.

Made it up the first steep part of the climb that morning!

Salkantay peak was at a staggering 20,570 ft, but the pass we went over topped out at 15,300 so even as we were looking down at mountains and valleys below us, we were still dwarfed by the imposing Salkantay.

The trail on the left winding up towards the pass.

At the top of the pass, little rock figures were everywhere with coca leaves snugly tucked into the base of them, as offerings to Pachamama, mother earth. I loved how connected to the planet the Quechua people are, and this is probably obvious but whenever we left a campsite, there was no trace that we had been there at all, preserving the beauty of the mountains and the plants of the cloud forest.

Little offerings to Pachamama everywhere.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather this entire trip, especially as in April we were just at the end of their rainy season, and it was impossible to predict weather in the Andes. This bright and sunny morning, however, the clouds completely cleared out for the hour and a half that we were nearing the top of the pass, and we were granted an incredible view down either side of the mountain. Later when we were a few thousand feet down, we looked back up and saw that the pass was completely obscured in fog once again. I’d never been so happy about a 5:30am start to the day before!

Wade and I enjoying a moment at the top!

Wade starting the hike down towards the cloud forest.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen – I cannot say this enough for the top of the pass!

After descending for a few hours we stopped for lunch right at the edge of where the cloud forest began. Fog and clouds were constantly blowing up over the rim of the steep drop down, and the area truly lived up to its name with clouds bringing small rain showers, followed by hot sun, followed by fog and clouds and back to sun again in a manner of minutes. I’ve traveled to a lot of places, and it’s funny to me how in almost every place, a local will jokingly tell me “you know, we have a saying about the weather here! If you don’t like it…wait 5 minutes!” The only people who never made this claim were, perhaps, the only people who truly should have – the Quechua people of the Andes mountains. Never before have I seen such truly ever-changing weather as in the cloud forest, and it was beautiful!

As we hiked down from the pass, we started seeing little potato farms! Up above, Salkantay starts to fog up again.

PIGLET! Not really part of the hike, but adorable, so it made the blog post.

We hiked downhill for hours through cloud forest, the temperature rising as we descended from the 15,300 ft pass to the small village of Collpapampa at 6,850 ft. The lower we got, the more birds we heard, the the trees and plants went from miniature to towering over us, and the more moss and ferns grew in layers, sometimes completely covering the trees!

Hiking through cloud forest (photo from Cesar)

After a lot of downhill hiking we were grateful for a good night’s sleep in the village bordering the Santa Teresa river, the sound of water running extremely peaceful. What I found to be slightly less peaceful was that we were apparently camping with Heihei the chicken from Disney’s Moana movie! This rooster was just a tiny bit confused as to 1.) how to crow like an actual rooster. It sounded like it was being strangled, which ironic because I found myself ready to go cook it and eat it around 4am, (you are not working with a vegan or vegetarian blog here) and 2.) the fact that roosters are supposed to start making noise at dawn, not at 3 in the morning! Both Cesar and I thought it would make a nice dinner, but I guess Heihei belonged to someone, so we left him to continue his confused crowing and figure out daylight savings on his own.

Our campsite the second night – happy to get off our feet after 7.5 hours of hiking!

Part 2 of our Peru trip coming shortly!

Looking back on the past year

Racing in Falun (photo by Nordic Focus)

You guys…what a crazy year this has been. I left the US on November 14th, and this is my first time back in the states. People often ask how we manage being on the road for 4-5 months at a time, and it’s both easy and hard. Easy, because we adapt to our new “normal” fairly quickly. When you accept that you’ll be living out of your suitcase in hotel rooms for weeks on end, you fall into a new rhythm of packing and unpacking, traveling constantly. That can be both exciting and fun! I don’t know what kind of job I’ll get “when I grow up”…but I’m focused on appreciating the opportunities I have in the here and now.

The US Women’s team in Quebec – Ida’s final World Cup race! (photo from Nordic Focus)

Constant travel can also be hard, because it’s really tough to be away from family, friends and loved ones for such a long time! I never used to understand why people would ever want to retire from ski racing….why not do this forever? But now I think I get it. It’s not your body that wants to retire first, it’s your brain. I catch myself daydreaming about really simple things, like being able to sit on a couch instead of a hotel room bed. Doing laundry whenever I want (oh, the glorious fresh smell of clean clothes!). Choosing what I want to eat for dinner every night, and cooking it when I want, how I want. I’m always missing Wade, and every time I Skype my family in Minnesota, Leo the adorable dog runs over and gives the camera a little lick, and it’s hard to know I won’t be able to see any of them for a while.

This body is pretty darn tired! (photo by Nordic Focus)

The more ties I have to the US and Canada, the closer I feel to the people I love and the places I love, the harder it is every single year to pack up and leave. But I also know that this isn’t forever, and over the course of my entire life, ski racing will be only part of it. Although the memories from traveling and racing around the world, making friends in every country, will last me a lifetime! Speaking of, it was incredibly cool to have a reunion in Quebec with some of the women who have represented our country at an Olympics (embarrassingly, the US only started sending women in 1972 so there’s 52 alumni total). These women paved the way, persevered through ups and downs and inspired the next generations. I was honored and inspired to shake their hands and meet them!

The NOW women! Such an honor to meet these women who paved the way! (photo from Reese Brown)

Now that I have a little down time to rest and reflect on the season, I’ve been thinking about what happened over the past year. It was going by too fast to even begin to process in the moment! Here’s a look back at the last 365 days, and what I learned from them.

Now that the season’s over, I can look back! (photo from Reese Brown)

In the 50 days following the Olympics, I packed in 25 events, with more to come in the summer and fall. I shamelessly pitched the World Cup coming to Minnesota in pretty much every interview, unsolicited, until we gained more traction. We’d been asking our NGB for years for a World Cup in our country, but I vividly remember a conversation I had a few years ago with Noah Hoffman around the dinner table, when we were talking about how amazing it would be for the US ski community if we got a World Cup race someday. He looked me in the eye and said “just how badly do you want this to happen? We’re not like other sports. Nobody is going to do this for us. If you want a World Cup race in the US, YOU have to be the one to get in the drivers seat and get it started. I 100% think you can do it, but you have to show that you want it and you’re willing to work for it, or it will never happen.” He was right. I started making calls and the organizers at the Loppet Foundation in Minneapolis were psyched and ready to go. But without government funding (the US is the only country that doesn’t supply this to their sports), we needed a little extra spark to help get the momentum needed to fundraise the massive amount of money that a World Cup requires. The Olympics were that spark.

The results sparked the momentum needed for a World Cup (photo from Nordic Focus)

So I joined the Minneapolis World Cup host committee as the co-chair, and although I’m just there as an athlete advisor, I’ve learned so much from watching what happens behind the scenes. I can never take a single World Cup race for granted, now that I’ve personally experienced the crazy amount of work and dedication it takes to make even one race happen! I can’t say thank you enough to the passionate, hard working individuals on the Minneapolis World Cup committees because without them, our sponsors and help from US Ski and Snowboard, we’d never have a World Cup on the calendar.

The date for the race? March 17th, 2020. Mark your calendars, folks!

Find out more information at their website: https://www.mnworldcup.com/

This is where you can find a map of where the park hosting the races is located, sign up to volunteer or become a partner, or read up on the other festival events leading up to the World Cup race on Tuesday!

I can’t wait for everyone to come see us race in Minnesota! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Now that I’ve made my little pitch for the race (thanks for listening)…back to what I learned from this crazy year! I worked on my public speaking skills as a result of working hard to attract sponsors for the World Cup, and as a result I got hired by an NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, as a motivational speaker. I found my voice, (if you’ll pardon the bad pun), and realized that I love public speaking for the chance to inspire many people at once and share what I love about this crazy sport and our gritty team. I joined two boards, the Share Winter Foundation (focused on getting kids out on snow and teaching them skiing skills they can have for life) and the SMS T2 team board as an athlete representative. I got a little peek behind the scenes of marketing teams from many national and international brands I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with, and found that I have a passion for marketing and building brands. In the past few years, I’ve received the education of a lifetime, and I value every little bit of it.

Learning more about skis, but also learning off the snow! (photo by Nordic Focus)

I learned that athletes can have a really loud voice when it comes to speaking up about important issues, or changes they want to make. And I don’t want to reach the end of my career, look back, and realize that I never used my voice to say anything important. Choosing to speak up about my recovery from an eating disorder and sharing my story was the best decision I could have possibly made. Taking away some of the stigma and mystery surrounding eating disorders by telling EVERYONE that I had one can hopefully open the door for athletes currently struggling to not be as scared to reach out for help.

Wearing the Emily Program logo on my headband at every race is a reminder of not only how far I’ve come and that it’s possible to turn your life around, but that I’m racing for something larger than myself. All the messages I’ve received from athletes, saying that they saw themselves in my words and were going to focus on their health and recovery, brought happy tears to my eyes every time I read a new one. The emails from parents and coaches saying that they were grateful to have an understanding of what it’s like to have an eating disorder were uplifting, because with awareness, understanding and open conversation, we can help a lot more people.

Racing with the Emily Program has been a huge honor. (photo by Nordic Focus)

I have an exciting announcement to make soon (and it deserves it’s own blog post, gosh darn it!), but for now I’ll leave you with this; writing short blog posts about my experiences in the hope of helping others has been such an honor, and something I’m passionate about. And I’m working on something a BIT longer than a blog post, to share more of my story and hopefully inspire and help more people.

Enjoying the sun and sights around the World! (photo from Sadie)

Hectic schedule? Absolutely. Given the chance, though, I wouldn’t take anything back. Helping bring the World Cup to Minnesota is one of the things I’m most proud of, and getting the US back in the World Cup calendar will be something that outlives me and helps the next generation of skiers long after I retire. That’s always been the big goal, for me; to give more than I took from the sport, and help the next generation have a better starting point than we did. This last year has been a crazy busy year of giving back in all the ways I know how, and it wore me down, but man, it’s been worth it.

Everyone needs a little help when they’re this tired! (photo by Nordic Focus)

But just like a fuse that burns hotter and brighter right before the end, I realize that I’ve been hurtling along at a completely irresponsible pace towards early burnout. Somehow, I’d managed to pack about 2-3 years of work into one. I’ve felt a deep, underlying feeling of mental and physical fatigue all season, and I can’t sustain the pace I’ve been going at with all my “extra-curricular activities”. I want to be a good role model for younger athletes not just by finding ways to give back, but by finding a healthy life-work balance, and learning how to put my health and needs first so that I can continue to give back over a long and happy career.

On the podium in Falun (photo by Nordic Focus)

And by no means was this year not a good season for me in terms of my ski career! I’m extremely happy to have 5 podiums, 2 of which were wins (I had the fastest time of day in Oberstdorf and hey, if it’s a 0-point FIS race, that’s a win in my book). Results aside, I’m proud of how I raced, and how I took a step forward technically. I gained confidence in myself and it showed in the way I raced sprint heats. Knowing that in many ways, the funding supplied to your team is directly tied to how many podiums you get can be the kind of pressure that crushes you slowly over a year. I had to learn how to navigate that pressure and was able to end the season happy and in a good place mentally. I pushed through a lot of self-doubt, self-imposed expectations and ups and downs. So perhaps more than the results, I’m most proud of reinforcing my belief that I am the only one who gets to decide if my race was a success. I judge based on how I raced, not how I placed, and shut out external expectations. All things considered, I feel that this year was pretty darn fantastic!

I can’t say thank you enough to my coach and tech, Jason Cork! (photo from Toni Sparrow)

So this spring, I’m hitting the re-set button in every way; physically, mentally, emotionally. This meant that after the final World Cup races in Quebec and a whirlwind 30-something hour trip to NYC with Kikkan to promote the Minneapolis World Cup, I was done racing. I realized that it made absolutely no sense to force my falling-apart-body into spring series if my brain, heart and head weren’t going to come along for the ride. Although it was incredibly hard to miss being with my team and seeing all my US friends and racing alongside them, it was the right decision this one time. As soon as I got to Boston, I was sleeping 10-12 hours every night, my body soaking up rest and recovery like a sponge. The weird and annoying little physical manifestations of stress that show up on my body started to heal. I felt myself growing happier and more relaxed as the only physical exercise I did each day was walk to the grocery store or take a city bike to the LL Bean store to look up camping gear.

Kikkan and I in front of 30 Rock, NYC

Getting to cook again…yay!

This April, I’m spending as much time as possible with the love of my life, and we’re headed to Peru to hike from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. We’re also hitting the beach with Wade’s family for a few days in San Diego, and in early May I’ll get some time with my family as well. My soul, my sense of adventure, my inner beach-babe and my desire to be with family are all fulfilled.

Time off!

Looking back on the past year

Racing in Falun (photo by Nordic Focus)

You guys…what a crazy year this has been. I left the US on November 14th, and this is my first time back in the states. People often ask how we manage being on the road for 4-5 months at a time, and it’s both easy and hard. Easy, because we adapt to our new “normal” fairly quickly. When you accept that you’ll be living out of your suitcase in hotel rooms for weeks on end, you fall into a new rhythm of packing and unpacking, traveling constantly. That can be both exciting and fun! I don’t know what kind of job I’ll get “when I grow up”…but I’m focused on appreciating the opportunities I have in the here and now.

The US Women’s team in Quebec – Ida’s final World Cup race! (photo from Nordic Focus)

Constant travel can also be hard, because it’s really tough to be away from family, friends and loved ones for such a long time! I never used to understand why people would ever want to retire from ski racing….why not do this forever? But now I think I get it. It’s not your body that wants to retire first, it’s your brain. I catch myself daydreaming about really simple things, like being able to sit on a couch instead of a hotel room bed. Doing laundry whenever I want (oh, the glorious fresh smell of clean clothes!). Choosing what I want to eat for dinner every night, and cooking it when I want, how I want. I’m always missing Wade, and every time I Skype my family in Minnesota, Leo the adorable dog runs over and gives the camera a little lick, and it’s hard to know I won’t be able to see any of them for a while.

This body is pretty darn tired! (photo by Nordic Focus)

The more ties I have to the US and Canada, the closer I feel to the people I love and the places I love, the harder it is every single year to pack up and leave. But I also know that this isn’t forever, and over the course of my entire life, ski racing will be only part of it. Although the memories from traveling and racing around the world, making friends in every country, will last me a lifetime! Speaking of, it was incredibly cool to have a reunion in Quebec with some of the women who have represented our country at an Olympics (embarrassingly, the US only started sending women in 1972 so there’s 52 alumni total). These women paved the way, persevered through ups and downs and inspired the next generations. I was honored and inspired to shake their hands and meet them!

The NOW women! Such an honor to meet these women who paved the way! (photo from Reese Brown)

Now that I have a little down time to rest and reflect on the season, I’ve been thinking about what happened over the past year. It was going by too fast to even begin to process in the moment! Here’s a look back at the last 365 days, and what I learned from them.

Now that the season’s over, I can look back! (photo from Reese Brown)

In the 50 days following the Olympics, I packed in 25 events, with more to come in the summer and fall. I shamelessly pitched the World Cup coming to Minnesota in pretty much every interview, unsolicited, until we gained more traction. We’d been asking our NGB for years for a World Cup in our country, but I vividly remember a conversation I had a few years ago with Noah Hoffman around the dinner table, when we were talking about how amazing it would be for the US ski community if we got a World Cup race someday. He looked me in the eye and said “just how badly do you want this to happen? We’re not like other sports. Nobody is going to do this for us. If you want a World Cup race in the US, YOU have to be the one to get in the drivers seat and get it started. I 100% think you can do it, but you have to show that you want it and you’re willing to work for it, or it will never happen.” He was right. I started making calls and the organizers at the Loppet Foundation in Minneapolis were psyched and ready to go. But without government funding (the US is the only country that doesn’t supply this to their sports), we needed a little extra spark to help get the momentum needed to fundraise the massive amount of money that a World Cup requires. The Olympics were that spark.

The results sparked the momentum needed for a World Cup (photo from Nordic Focus)

So I joined the Minneapolis World Cup host committee as the co-chair, and although I’m just there as an athlete advisor, I’ve learned so much from watching what happens behind the scenes. I can never take a single World Cup race for granted, now that I’ve personally experienced the crazy amount of work and dedication it takes to make even one race happen! I can’t say thank you enough to the passionate, hard working individuals on the Minneapolis World Cup committees because without them, our sponsors and help from US Ski and Snowboard, we’d never have a World Cup on the calendar.

The date for the race? March 17th, 2020. Mark your calendars, folks!

Find out more information at their website: https://www.mnworldcup.com/

This is where you can find a map of where the park hosting the races is located, sign up to volunteer or become a partner, or read up on the other festival events leading up to the World Cup race on Tuesday!

I can’t wait for everyone to come see us race in Minnesota! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Now that I’ve made my little pitch for the race (thanks for listening)…back to what I learned from this crazy year! I worked on my public speaking skills as a result of working hard to attract sponsors for the World Cup, and as a result I got hired by an NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, as a motivational speaker. I found my voice, (if you’ll pardon the bad pun), and realized that I love public speaking for the chance to inspire many people at once and share what I love about this crazy sport and our gritty team. I joined two boards, the Share Winter Foundation (focused on getting kids out on snow and teaching them skiing skills they can have for life) and the SMS T2 team board as an athlete representative. I got a little peek behind the scenes of marketing teams from many national and international brands I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with, and found that I have a passion for marketing and building brands. In the past few years, I’ve received the education of a lifetime, and I value every little bit of it.

Learning more about skis, but also learning off the snow! (photo by Nordic Focus)

I learned that athletes can have a really loud voice when it comes to speaking up about important issues, or changes they want to make. And I don’t want to reach the end of my career, look back, and realize that I never used my voice to say anything important. Choosing to speak up about my recovery from an eating disorder and sharing my story was the best decision I could have possibly made. Taking away some of the stigma and mystery surrounding eating disorders by telling EVERYONE that I had one can hopefully open the door for athletes currently struggling to not be as scared to reach out for help.

Wearing the Emily Program logo on my headband at every race is a reminder of not only how far I’ve come and that it’s possible to turn your life around, but that I’m racing for something larger than myself. All the messages I’ve received from athletes, saying that they saw themselves in my words and were going to focus on their health and recovery, brought happy tears to my eyes every time I read a new one. The emails from parents and coaches saying that they were grateful to have an understanding of what it’s like to have an eating disorder were uplifting, because with awareness, understanding and open conversation, we can help a lot more people.

Racing with the Emily Program has been a huge honor. (photo by Nordic Focus)

I have an exciting announcement to make soon (and it deserves it’s own blog post, gosh darn it!), but for now I’ll leave you with this; writing short blog posts about my experiences in the hope of helping others has been such an honor, and something I’m passionate about. And I’m working on something a BIT longer than a blog post, to share more of my story and hopefully inspire and help more people.

Enjoying the sun and sights around the World! (photo from Sadie)

Hectic schedule? Absolutely. Given the chance, though, I wouldn’t take anything back. Helping bring the World Cup to Minnesota is one of the things I’m most proud of, and getting the US back in the World Cup calendar will be something that outlives me and helps the next generation of skiers long after I retire. That’s always been the big goal, for me; to give more than I took from the sport, and help the next generation have a better starting point than we did. This last year has been a crazy busy year of giving back in all the ways I know how, and it wore me down, but man, it’s been worth it.

Everyone needs a little help when they’re this tired! (photo by Nordic Focus)

But just like a fuse that burns hotter and brighter right before the end, I realize that I’ve been hurtling along at a completely irresponsible pace towards early burnout. Somehow, I’d managed to pack about 2-3 years of work into one. I’ve felt a deep, underlying feeling of mental and physical fatigue all season, and I can’t sustain the pace I’ve been going at with all my “extra-curricular activities”. I want to be a good role model for younger athletes not just by finding ways to give back, but by finding a healthy life-work balance, and learning how to put my health and needs first so that I can continue to give back over a long and happy career.

On the podium in Falun (photo by Nordic Focus)

And by no means was this year not a good season for me in terms of my ski career! I’m extremely happy to have 5 podiums, 2 of which were wins (I had the fastest time of day in Oberstdorf and hey, if it’s a 0-point FIS race, that’s a win in my book). Results aside, I’m proud of how I raced, and how I took a step forward technically. I gained confidence in myself and it showed in the way I raced sprint heats. Knowing that in many ways, the funding supplied to your team is directly tied to how many podiums you get can be the kind of pressure that crushes you slowly over a year. I had to learn how to navigate that pressure and was able to end the season happy and in a good place mentally. I pushed through a lot of self-doubt, self-imposed expectations and ups and downs. So perhaps more than the results, I’m most proud of reinforcing my belief that I am the only one who gets to decide if my race was a success. I judge based on how I raced, not how I placed, and shut out external expectations. All things considered, I feel that this year was pretty darn fantastic!

I can’t say thank you enough to my coach and tech, Jason Cork! (photo from Toni Sparrow)

So this spring, I’m hitting the re-set button in every way; physically, mentally, emotionally. This meant that after the final World Cup races in Quebec and a whirlwind 30-something hour trip to NYC with Kikkan to promote the Minneapolis World Cup, I was done racing. I realized that it made absolutely no sense to force my falling-apart-body into spring series if my brain, heart and head weren’t going to come along for the ride. Although it was incredibly hard to miss being with my team and seeing all my US friends and racing alongside them, it was the right decision this one time. As soon as I got to Boston, I was sleeping 10-12 hours every night, my body soaking up rest and recovery like a sponge. The weird and annoying little physical manifestations of stress that show up on my body started to heal. I felt myself growing happier and more relaxed as the only physical exercise I did each day was walk to the grocery store or take a city bike to the LL Bean store to look up camping gear.

Kikkan and I in front of 30 Rock, NYC

Getting to cook again…yay!

This April, I’m spending as much time as possible with the love of my life, and we’re headed to Peru to hike from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. We’re also hitting the beach with Wade’s family for a few days in San Diego, and in early May I’ll get some time with my family as well. My soul, my sense of adventure, my inner beach-babe and my desire to be with family are all fulfilled.

Time off!

A look back on Seefeld

Let me start by saying this; no, I was not cold racing in shorts and short sleeves, yes, you should try it sometime, and yes, it was refreshing to have the cold slush hitting my legs! Somehow, the sight of me racing in a short suit was more interesting and befuddling to most reporters than the actual race itself. Clearly, they haven’t ever experienced a Minnesota cold snap. Now THAT is cold weather!

Apparently, it got up to the high 60’s in temps that day! (photo from Nordic Focus)

Honestly, it’s hard to describe the amount of distress overheating puts me in, but let me put it this way; racing is already one of the most painful things you can do. If I have to deal with being incredibly uncomfortable, dizzy, and feeling my body start to shut down because I’m way too hot, it becomes even harder to continue pushing my body to the limit, because it’s already that much closer to the limit! And besides, everyone needed the laughs by the time we got to the end of the races.

Just trying to keep up with Ingvild! (photo from SIA Nordic)

Seefeld World Champs was full of ups and downs, hot sun and slush, disappointments and a lot of joy. Also, the realization that Devon Kershaw is the best media zone person ever, because of his total compassion for the person behind the athlete bib. He knows what it feels like to give it your absolute best and either get what you came for (and be overwhelmed by the ensuing attention) or come up short…and then still be overwhelmed by the ensuing media asking you what went wrong. Either way, you don’t get any time to process your emotions in private and decide how you truly felt about a race. Which was why I had to remember my rule for myself – before looking up at the screen I take a few seconds to think back on the race, my mental toughness, pacing and technique goals for myself, and decide if my race was a “success” or not.

This is when I decide if I found success on the course. (photo from Nordic Focus)

The amount of pressure I put on myself was almost crushing. In any given race, there are only three medals, and at least a dozen competitors with a legit chance at getting them. In every race, there are so many uncontrollable factors that you as an athlete can’t change; the course design, the weather, the speed of the snow, the wax on your skis, among other things like broken poles or falling. And I definitely struggled with some of the uncontrollable factors! For example, we missed the wax in the individual start 10km, and I was also burning up from the inside in the heat. My first thought when I crossed the finish line was “awesome, I just killed myself out there. There’s nothing left in the tank, I’m overheating like crazy but I think that went pretty well!”. Then, despite my assessment that it had been a good effort from me, when I saw the results I had a little confidence crisis. What happened to my fitness? Am I not in good shape? What the heck just happened here? 

Sadie and I gave it our all in the team sprint. (photo from Nordic Focus)

And this right here is a great example of why results never tell the whole story, and why we shouldn’t judge our performance or our worth based on results alone. My fitness hadn’t disappeared overnight, nor did it suddenly come back in time for the 30km skate. I don’t suck at classic skiing (although sometimes I hate it, but that’s different). A combination of missing the wax and then overheating had pushed me farther down the results than I’d been in nearly every World Cup all year, but I had to believe in myself and remember that I still had reason to have confidence in my fitness, even when it seemed crazy to do so!

Rosie, Julia and Sadie cooling me down at the finish of the relay! (photo from Nordic Focus)

The next individual race I did, the 30km skate, I had simply amazing wax and amazing skis. I’m totally biased, but I think they were the best out there! Our team absolutely knocked it out of the park. Now, wax doesn’t always make or break a race, and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse if that’s not really what was going on there. But every ski racer in the world has experienced having skis that are running better than average, and skis that are not competitive with the field. Learning to deal mentally as well as physically with those situations is a challenge, and can leave you unsure of where your fitness level really is. That’s simply part of the game! However, realizing that my fitness hadn’t suddenly disappeared overnight was such a relief that I started to have fun again, because I wasn’t spending any energy doubting myself or second-guessing my training!

Finishing a good day of testing with Cork. (photo from Nordic Focus)

Why I am writing all this? Because we need to give ourselves a break sometimes. Trying to assume responsibility for the uncontrollable factors in life hasn’t ever gotten me very far, and worrying about it is even worse. That 30km race I finally stopped putting pressure on myself, expecting nothing and racing like I had nothing to lose. I let myself have fun without feeling like a result was the only thing that mattered, and ironically, that resulted in my best result of the week. Life is so weird.

Sending it on the downhills, always! (photo from Lumi Experiences)

Speaking of weird…the following is a transcription of the conversation that my brain had with my body with about 7km to go in the 30km:

Brain: Ok body! Let’s go! LETTSSSSS GOOOOO!

Arms: Going! I’m going!

Core: Ehhh, fiiiiine, I’m going. Woo-hoo and all that.

Legs: ……shut up, I hate you.

Lower quads: *spazzing uncontrollably and cramping up* …can’t….process…what’s….happening…

Brain: *sighs* Good lord! As usual, I’m going to have to drag you along on willpower alone!

Arms: Sooooooo….we’re not just going to double pole this in to the finish?

Legs: I can probably make it down the men’s sprint hill. Probably. Most likely. At least a 6/10 chance this will go well.

Just after getting the tag from Rosie in the relay. (photo by Lumi Expriences)

At the end of the day, I’m leaving World Champs proud of the effort I gave, because that was the only thing within my control and I really gave it all. I prepared the best I could, held nothing back in each race, and most importantly, I had fun with my team. I’m taking a lot of happy memories with me! The excited atmosphere and feeling of team bonding we had while face painting and getting ready for the relays. The hugs from friends I haven’t seen in a while who came to support the team. The smiles that greeted us every time we came into the wax truck. The overwhelming amount of love and care I felt when I was overheating and dizzy and our volunteer staff were huddled around me pouring one cup of water after another over my head to cool me down. The fun atmosphere and laughs we shared at the dinner table every night. Every World Champs has its own atmosphere and feel to it, and whether you looked at the results sheet or not, this one was made fun by the people in it.

Team! Julia, Sadie, Rosie and me. (photo from SIA Nordic)

You can never really retire from this team! Getting a great big hug from Holly Brooks. (photo from a good friend of the team)

I want to take a moment to address the scandal that hit World Champs when 5 men; 2 Austrians, 2 Estonians and 1 Kazakhstan racer, were busted for blood doping. The news really hit everyone hard, but in different ways. I had considered one of the cheaters a friend, and I felt somehow personally let down, my first thought being “but…I thought you were a good person???” My second thought was that I felt so angry, on behalf of all of us who are doing our best every day and competing clean…so angry at the coaches who encourage cheating…so angry at the dopers for what they’ve done to skiing in their respective countries and for how hard they’ve made it on their teammates who were just here to compete and do their best. But after all that anger I tried to find a little compassion (I had to dig reaaallly deep for that) and perhaps some understanding. How can we try to prevent doping in sport if we don’t take the time to try and understand what drove these men to do it in the first place? Is there something more we can be doing to educate athletes at a younger age that this is not ok?

As shocking as this was, it would be crazy to jump to conclusions and declare in anger that sport is ultimately flawed or broken. It is not broken, because WE are not broken. As long as there are athletes who are competing clean and using their voices to say that cheating is not acceptable in any form, there is hope for the future.

So for what it’s worth, I do not look upon the news that 5 athletes were caught doping and shrug and say “well, that’s sport!”. I think that it’s so wrong. I think it’s even more messed up that there are coaches and doctors supporting this, perpetuating a culture where they tell the athletes they support that they should cheat and throw away their life’s integrity for the hope of having their name higher up on a results sheet.

I think you can be clean and win, but beyond that, I’m proud to be part of a team that values HOW you race more than the result itself. If you win but you’re a terrible person, that’s much worse than competing with integrity and good character, being a good teammate and friend, supporting the next generation of skiers and showing them through your example that how you pursue a goal matters so much more than whether you actually reach it or not.

For example, at the end of World Champs, I had so many people come tell me they loved watching me race…not because of where I landed on the results, but because I raced in shorts because I put my heart and soul into it and even when the wheels were clearly falling off, I kept dragging myself up each hill as fast as I could. Frankly, they didn’t care if I ended up with a medal or not. It’s a gutsy, gritty performance that moves people and inspires them. It’s HOW you race, not if you win. But you only get to own the performance if you compete clean, because once you cheat, it’s all over. No matter if you win or not, no performance is actually truly yours anymore. It all becomes a lie. It’s hard for me to even fathom why you could choose to throw away everything for the chance of winning, when some of the races I’ve been most proud of are the ones where I didn’t even come close to the podium! But I also recognize that I’ve grown up in an amazing culture that celebrates a gutsy, go-for-it, give-em-hell try rather than glory alone, and that my whole view is shaped around the idea that integrity is everything.

So, to all the young athletes out there, whatever your sport is, I want you to know that the one thing you will always have throughout your career, regardless of result, is your integrity, the joy of competing and giving it your all. Protect that. Value it. Don’t ever throw it away, even if someone suggests that winning is the only thing that matters. Because it’s not, I can promise you that. Having both won races, lost them, and landed somewhere in the middle many times, when I look back on all the races I’ve gotten to do thus far in my career I have the pride of knowing that each and every one of them was my own, and they were real, and that it was my body doing it’s absolute best every time. So protect your integrity and race the right way, because someday when you retire you’ll want to look back at all the amazing memories you made of racing, traveling and training with a team, and you’ll want to know that all those memories and races are truly yours.

Enjoying every second of this awesome thing we get to do. (photo from Nordic Focus)

A look back on Seefeld

Let me start by saying this; no, I was not cold racing in shorts and short sleeves, yes, you should try it sometime, and yes, it was refreshing to have the cold slush hitting my legs! Somehow, the sight of me racing in a short suit was more interesting and befuddling to most reporters than the actual race itself. Clearly, they haven’t ever experienced a Minnesota cold snap. Now THAT is cold weather!

Apparently, it got up to the high 60’s in temps that day! (photo from Nordic Focus)

Honestly, it’s hard to describe the amount of distress overheating puts me in, but let me put it this way; racing is already one of the most painful things you can do. If I have to deal with being incredibly uncomfortable, dizzy, and feeling my body start to shut down because I’m way too hot, it becomes even harder to continue pushing my body to the limit, because it’s already that much closer to the limit! And besides, everyone needed the laughs by the time we got to the end of the races.

Just trying to keep up with Ingvild! (photo from SIA Nordic)

Seefeld World Champs was full of ups and downs, hot sun and slush, disappointments and a lot of joy. Also, the realization that Devon Kershaw is the best media zone person ever, because of his total compassion for the person behind the athlete bib. He knows what it feels like to give it your absolute best and either get what you came for (and be overwhelmed by the ensuing attention) or come up short…and then still be overwhelmed by the ensuing media asking you what went wrong. Either way, you don’t get any time to process your emotions in private and decide how you truly felt about a race. Which was why I had to remember my rule for myself – before looking up at the screen I take a few seconds to think back on the race, my mental toughness, pacing and technique goals for myself, and decide if my race was a “success” or not.

This is when I decide if I found success on the course. (photo from Nordic Focus)

The amount of pressure I put on myself was almost crushing. In any given race, there are only three medals, and at least a dozen competitors with a legit chance at getting them. In every race, there are so many uncontrollable factors that you as an athlete can’t change; the course design, the weather, the speed of the snow, the wax on your skis, among other things like broken poles or falling. And I definitely struggled with some of the uncontrollable factors! For example, we missed the wax in the individual start 10km, and I was also burning up from the inside in the heat. My first thought when I crossed the finish line was “awesome, I just killed myself out there. There’s nothing left in the tank, I’m overheating like crazy but I think that went pretty well!”. Then, despite my assessment that it had been a good effort from me, when I saw the results I had a little confidence crisis. What happened to my fitness? Am I not in good shape? What the heck just happened here? 

Sadie and I gave it our all in the team sprint. (photo from Nordic Focus)

And this right here is a great example of why results never tell the whole story, and why we shouldn’t judge our performance or our worth based on results alone. My fitness hadn’t disappeared overnight, nor did it suddenly come back in time for the 30km skate. I don’t suck at classic skiing (although sometimes I hate it, but that’s different). A combination of missing the wax and then overheating had pushed me farther down the results than I’d been in nearly every World Cup all year, but I had to believe in myself and remember that I still had reason to have confidence in my fitness, even when it seemed crazy to do so!

Rosie, Julia and Sadie cooling me down at the finish of the relay! (photo from Nordic Focus)

The next individual race I did, the 30km skate, I had simply amazing wax and amazing skis. I’m totally biased, but I think they were the best out there! Our team absolutely knocked it out of the park. Now, wax doesn’t always make or break a race, and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse if that’s not really what was going on there. But every ski racer in the world has experienced having skis that are running better than average, and skis that are not competitive with the field. Learning to deal mentally as well as physically with those situations is a challenge, and can leave you unsure of where your fitness level really is. That’s simply part of the game! However, realizing that my fitness hadn’t suddenly disappeared overnight was such a relief that I started to have fun again, because I wasn’t spending any energy doubting myself or second-guessing my training!

Finishing a good day of testing with Cork. (photo from Nordic Focus)

Why I am writing all this? Because we need to give ourselves a break sometimes. Trying to assume responsibility for the uncontrollable factors in life hasn’t ever gotten me very far, and worrying about it is even worse. That 30km race I finally stopped putting pressure on myself, expecting nothing and racing like I had nothing to lose. I let myself have fun without feeling like a result was the only thing that mattered, and ironically, that resulted in my best result of the week. Life is so weird.

Sending it on the downhills, always! (photo from Lumi Experiences)

Speaking of weird…the following is a transcription of the conversation that my brain had with my body with about 7km to go in the 30km:

Brain: Ok body! Let’s go! LETTSSSSS GOOOOO!

Arms: Going! I’m going!

Core: Ehhh, fiiiiine, I’m going. Woo-hoo and all that.

Legs: ……shut up, I hate you.

Lower quads: *spazzing uncontrollably and cramping up* …can’t….process…what’s….happening…

Brain: *sighs* Good lord! As usual, I’m going to have to drag you along on willpower alone!

Arms: Sooooooo….we’re not just going to double pole this in to the finish?

Legs: I can probably make it down the men’s sprint hill. Probably. Most likely. At least a 6/10 chance this will go well.

Just after getting the tag from Rosie in the relay. (photo by Lumi Expriences)

At the end of the day, I’m leaving World Champs proud of the effort I gave, because that was the only thing within my control and I really gave it all. I prepared the best I could, held nothing back in each race, and most importantly, I had fun with my team. I’m taking a lot of happy memories with me! The excited atmosphere and feeling of team bonding we had while face painting and getting ready for the relays. The hugs from friends I haven’t seen in a while who came to support the team. The smiles that greeted us every time we came into the wax truck. The overwhelming amount of love and care I felt when I was overheating and dizzy and our volunteer staff were huddled around me pouring one cup of water after another over my head to cool me down. The fun atmosphere and laughs we shared at the dinner table every night. Every World Champs has its own atmosphere and feel to it, and whether you looked at the results sheet or not, this one was made fun by the people in it.

Team! Julia, Sadie, Rosie and me. (photo from SIA Nordic)

You can never really retire from this team! Getting a great big hug from Holly Brooks. (photo from a good friend of the team)

I want to take a moment to address the scandal that hit World Champs when 5 men; 2 Austrians, 2 Estonians and 1 Kazakhstan racer, were busted for blood doping. The news really hit everyone hard, but in different ways. I had considered one of the cheaters a friend, and I felt somehow personally let down, my first thought being “but…I thought you were a good person???” My second thought was that I felt so angry, on behalf of all of us who are doing our best every day and competing clean…so angry at the coaches who encourage cheating…so angry at the dopers for what they’ve done to skiing in their respective countries and for how hard they’ve made it on their teammates who were just here to compete and do their best. But after all that anger I tried to find a little compassion (I had to dig reaaallly deep for that) and perhaps some understanding. How can we try to prevent doping in sport if we don’t take the time to try and understand what drove these men to do it in the first place? Is there something more we can be doing to educate athletes at a younger age that this is not ok?

As shocking as this was, it would be crazy to jump to conclusions and declare in anger that sport is ultimately flawed or broken. It is not broken, because WE are not broken. As long as there are athletes who are competing clean and using their voices to say that cheating is not acceptable in any form, there is hope for the future.

So for what it’s worth, I do not look upon the news that 5 athletes were caught doping and shrug and say “well, that’s sport!”. I think that it’s so wrong. I think it’s even more messed up that there are coaches and doctors supporting this, perpetuating a culture where they tell the athletes they support that they should cheat and throw away their life’s integrity for the hope of having their name higher up on a results sheet.

I think you can be clean and win, but beyond that, I’m proud to be part of a team that values HOW you race more than the result itself. If you win but you’re a terrible person, that’s much worse than competing with integrity and good character, being a good teammate and friend, supporting the next generation of skiers and showing them through your example that how you pursue a goal matters so much more than whether you actually reach it or not.

For example, at the end of World Champs, I had so many people come tell me they loved watching me race…not because of where I landed on the results, but because I raced in shorts because I put my heart and soul into it and even when the wheels were clearly falling off, I kept dragging myself up each hill as fast as I could. Frankly, they didn’t care if I ended up with a medal or not. It’s a gutsy, gritty performance that moves people and inspires them. It’s HOW you race, not if you win. But you only get to own the performance if you compete clean, because once you cheat, it’s all over. No matter if you win or not, no performance is actually truly yours anymore. It all becomes a lie. It’s hard for me to even fathom why you could choose to throw away everything for the chance of winning, when some of the races I’ve been most proud of are the ones where I didn’t even come close to the podium! But I also recognize that I’ve grown up in an amazing culture that celebrates a gutsy, go-for-it, give-em-hell try rather than glory alone, and that my whole view is shaped around the idea that integrity is everything.

So, to all the young athletes out there, whatever your sport is, I want you to know that the one thing you will always have throughout your career, regardless of result, is your integrity, the joy of competing and giving it your all. Protect that. Value it. Don’t ever throw it away, even if someone suggests that winning is the only thing that matters. Because it’s not, I can promise you that. Having both won races, lost them, and landed somewhere in the middle many times, when I look back on all the races I’ve gotten to do thus far in my career I have the pride of knowing that each and every one of them was my own, and they were real, and that it was my body doing it’s absolute best every time. So protect your integrity and race the right way, because someday when you retire you’ll want to look back at all the amazing memories you made of racing, traveling and training with a team, and you’ll want to know that all those memories and races are truly yours.

Enjoying every second of this awesome thing we get to do. (photo from Nordic Focus)

Let’s talk about eating disorders

Hello from a super sunny Seefeld! It’s been some absolutely amazing weather and atmosphere in the packed stadium for the first few races of World Champs this week. And, as always, it’s fun to get out there and do what I love! But this post isn’t actually about ski racing (there will be an update on the races coming later!). It’s about something much more important.

Headed into more races soon! photo by THIBAUT/NordicFocus.

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness week, and I want to call attention to the fact that eating disorders are:

1 Common – More than 30 million people in the U.S. will have an eating disorder.

2. Serious – Eating disorders have devastating physical and psychological consequences—roughly one person dies every hour from eating disorder complications.

3. NOT a Choice – Eating disorders are biologically based illnesses influenced by psychological, sociocultural and physiological factors.

Reaching out for help is the most important first step towards recovery, but it’s also the hardest, for many reasons. I wrote a blog post for the Emily Program, the full version of which you can find at THIS LINK. I’d really encourage you to read it because it was scary and hard for me to write, which I’ve found usually means I’m doing something right. Here’s an excerpt below:

I talk about my history with an eating disorder not only for the young athletes I know who are reading this right now and thinking “wait…that’s ME”, but also for their parents, coaches, friends and teammates who are trying to figure out what it might be like to actually have an eating disorder. For those who are trying to find empathy and figure out what’s going on in their head…here’s what was going on in mine.

The crazy thing is, sitting here today, it feels like a lifetime ago, and it’s easy to forget the feelings of panic, anxiety, fear and shame that followed me around on a near-constant basis.

But when I sit and think back to 2010 when I was picking up the phone to call the Emily Program and get treatment, it was the scariest thing in the world. It felt like my life couldn’t possibly go on without my eating disorder. It also couldn’t go on WITH one, either.

It’s alarming how quickly it spiraled out of control. I went from not caring what anyone thought I looked like in my early high school years (as evidenced by my daily uniform of baggy track pants, old cotton t-shirts from one race event or another, running shoes and a hair tie on my wrist) to thinking there was no way I would ever look cool, pretty or skinny…but suddenly worried about it. At this point, that just makes me a normal teenager. Those people who say “high school years are the best of your life!!!” are nuts. Don’t listen to them.

No, the scary part was that I went from feeling a little insecure and staring to use some disordered eating habits (going for a run after dinner even when I’d already trained that day, deciding certain foods were “off limits”, never using butter or salad dressing, etc.) to a full-blown eating disorder very quickly. My thoughts rapidly turned into “I can’t possibly get through this week of training without my eating disorder”, and I only saw a future in which I was living through the lens of disordered eating. Despite the fact that I had lived 18 years of my life without it, my eating disorder had become my new life sentence.

I was scared that without my eating disorder, I would immediately get fat and slow and wouldn’t race fast again. I was scared that without it, I wouldn’t make the National Team. I was scared to go into a recovery program, because I worried I wouldn’t be able to train enough. I was scared that if my club team knew I had an eating disorder, I’d get kicked off the team. I was scared that boys wouldn’t like me if they found out. Worse still, I was scared that they WOULD like me.

When you believe that you are not worthy of love because you don’t love yourself, you immediately question anyone who tries to show you love or support. I thought the people who were trying to help me get better couldn’t possibly understand that without my eating disorder, I was nobody.

We need to be able to talk about eating disorders so that it’s not as scary to say you’re struggling with one. (photo from the Emily Program)

The foundation behind the Emily Program is now called WithAll, with an awesome mission to try and prevent or mitigate the severity of eating disorders by changing the way we talk about food, remove barriers to treatment by giving out grants, and help family and friends feel supported through their loved one’s treatment. Their website is withall.org, and I’d recommend it as well as emilyprogram.com as great ways to get resources and information for either yourself or someone in your life who may be struggling with an eating disorder.

True. (photo from the Emily Program)

They are starting to launch their “What to say” initiative, because what we say to the kids who look up to us is incredibly powerful. How we talk about our own bodies in front of kids, teammates or peers can, and does, influence how they see themselves.

Here’s an example; so many people comment on women’s bodies and their appearance before they comment on their actions or their character traits. This happens all the time in sports, especially for women. If I post a podium photo from a race I was proud of, where I skied with guts and really sent it, about 70% of the comments will invariably be about my appearance, not about how hard I worked or how I raced. If I was a man, do you think most of the comments would be about how strong and smart I raced? Just food for thought.

Let’s change the focus from appearance to character traits. (photo from the Emily Program)

Now, I’m not saying you can’t tell someone they look good! Society isn’t going to change overnight, and it’s always nice to hear that you look nice (especially when you’re on a date!). But it’s important to think about the way we pay other people compliments. Are you ONLY commenting on someone’s appearance, without evening the scales by remarking on their drive, their work ethic, their creativity, brains, wit, courage or generosity? Making sure we take the time to let the people in our lives know that we appreciate them for who they ARE, not what they look like, lets them know that their character traits are more important than the looks they were born with. What you chose to do with your life is more important than how you wear the genes (and jeans) you were given.

Take a look at all the other words that can describe a human being… (photo from the Emily Program)

If all we ever do is tell someone “You’re so pretty! You’re so cute. You are beautiful”, they may start to believe that the most valuable thing about them is the face they present to the world. And it works the other way, too. When we put ourselves down with negative comments, we start to believe them.

So here’s my challenge to you: this week, only say kind things to yourself, and about yourself. Especially when you’re within earshot of others, but even when you’re alone. If you don’t have a kind thought for your body, make one up! Fake. It. Till. You. Make. It. Language is an incredibly powerful tool that all of us possess, and the words you use to describe yourself can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So instead of saying “I am so embarrassed by how big my leg muscles are”, re-format that to something positive, like “my legs can carry me up and over hills, and I’m grateful to have a strong and healthy body!” Let’s treat ourselves, and the people around us, with kind words.