Veg Head

Being a vegetarian in this day and age is not a big deal. The idea of the meat, starch, veg dinner is becoming a thing of the past for many. People are realizing that there is plenty of macro and micro nutrients in something as simple as a vegetable stir fry, with the added benefits of it being easy and quick to make while only dirtying one pan.

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Still when a person is found out to be a veg everyone wants to know why. It is natural for a human to want to understand why another human would make a decision different from their own that maybe they cannot understand.

For many being a veggie is just a fad. For some it lasts a couple months and is preceded by glutenfreeness and followed up with a paleo diet. There is nothing wrong with experimenting with diet but often the conviction of the fad is not as strong.

Other people are veg because they believe in animal rights, and others because of environmental issues. Some people, because they don’t like the taste, some for health reasons. To me all of these reason are perfectly valid, but none are mine. In fact, in my 15 years of being a vegetarian I have only met one person who was for a similar reason and it was still not quite the same reason.

I became a veg when I was 10 years old. My mom never served much meat. Maybe chicken once a week and fish every other on top of that. Maybe the occasional turkey burger and once or twice I had a hot dog or burger. So at 10, for reasons unknown or at least long forgotten I stopped eating meat all together. To this day I don’t have any memory of ever eating a steak. I do remember eating swordfish once, and turkey on thanksgiving and bacon.

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So, why? This is what everyone wants to know. I have crafted my elevator speech to give to people with a good enough answer, but seeing that I am taking the time to write this post, I will go into a bit more depth. There is one main reason, and two supporting reason that I am and remain a veggie.

The first and largest reason can be a bit difficult to explain, but I will try my best. For many people there is the thought that meat is “icky” if it resembles the animal it came from. For example, if served a fish with the head still on some people will not eat it, and even think it’s gross. How is this gross? Served with or without the head at one time the fish had a head. So really some people just don’t want to think about the fact the what they are eating at one point was alive. To me this is a disservice to ones self.

This extends past what is on ones plate. The killing of an animal is a super intense process. One that I am not sure I could carry out. So how can I ask myself to eat something that has been killed, when I couldn’t kill it myself. This is the heart of it for me. If I cannot kill the animal then when I eat it I am just trying to ignore the fact that it was killed. So to extend this, if I do kill an animal myself, I will eat it.

I do not have many opportunities in my life to kill animals for food, but I have killed and eaten a chicken and a few fish. It is very intense to hold a chicken and shove a knife into its neck and slit it’s throat and then hold it tight and wait for it’s muscles to stop twitching. But in this powerful experience it also made the food on my plate genuine. I was not ignoring what it took to get it there.

I said there were a couple other reasons I am a vegetarian. For the trained ear there are a bunch of flaws in the above argument, they don’t make it invalid, but they do raise the question of why I don’t raise my own veggies because the same thing can be applied to all food. So I have a couple back up reasons. To start I think the array of reasons that people are veg all hold some validity and at this point I don’t have a great reason to start eating meat. I have figured out how to eat healthy and enjoy what I eat.

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Another reason I have been a veg for so long may seem crazy to some, but to me makes perfect sense. It is not always easy to be vegetarian, and I have never intentionally slipped up in all 15 years. Not once have I eaten meat intentionally that I did not kill myself. Sure in 15 years you have a soup that you were told 3 time didn’t have chicken broth in it just to find out that it did in fact have chicken broth, but I have never cheated. A large reason why I am veg, is just to test my self control. I enjoy testing my self-control and see it as a great tool to build for every thing in life.

I have talked about self-control in other articles I’ve written. Self-control goes hand in hand with motivation. In order to push oneself to stick with a goal there must be something motivating you from deep down. And in order to stay motivated you must not stray and maintain self-control. So, in heading into the coming year and attempting to walk uphill 2.5 Million feet I am going to need a lot of self-control and motivation. 15 years of self-control training certainly cannot hurt.

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The Compromises we Make

I once had a professor give me some advice for life. He posed it as a thought experiment. He said,

“There are three things in life, work – what you do to occupy your time, paid or unpaid, place – where you physically are, and relationships – your interactions with other people, romantic of otherwise. Of these three things you can only expect to have control over two at a time. If you have control of all three expect something to go haywire, if you have control of one, pick another and go for it, and if you feel you have control over none of them get up off the couch and start walking.”

The thought experiment was as follows,

“If you had to pick just two of these to have control over, which would they be?”

The answer to this is always changing throughout life. When I was in a committed relationship I choose that first, and then let what I was doing during my free time be out of my control. Generally, when winter comes. I choose place over everything else so that I can do what I love and ski as much as possible. This requires large compromises on the work I do and the relationships I have. I see my family in the fall before the season starts and then not again until the spring, and I work waiting tables.

2015-02-06 07.29.06Talk about place.

For everyone the balance of place, work and relationships is different and changing. I have found it a great tool for making and analyzing tough life decisions. By seeing decisions through this lens, you don’t regret the compromises you make, but can rather recognize that you can only expect to control so much of your life, and the rest will figure itself out.

This summer I have been making a ton of compromises. I absolutely love my life, and wouldn’t change a thing, but getting to that point takes compromising and relinquishing control over the third piece.

To begin, I live in a basement. An unfinished one. With 4 loud pumps (not sure what a house needs 4 different pumps for). And a ceiling that is 5′ 10″ (I am 5’10.5″). And I am too cheap/lazy to buy/find a bed, so I am sleeping on a sleeping pad. And the sleeping pad has a pinhole leak in it, so if I don’t fall asleep in an hour I start feeling the ground and have to blow it back up (if I fall asleep I am fine until the next morning).

2015-07-20 11.56.32Home sweet home

This may sound like hell to many people, and I’m not saying it is my paradise, but I really don’t mind. The pumps just force me to be a sound sleeper. I don’t spend much time down there, so the ceilings are whatever. Inflating the bed nightly is just training for my lungs. And on the plus side the basement is a constant beautiful 65 degrees and makes for great sleeping when it is 85 and humid upstairs.

For work I am perusing Craigslist daily looking for odd jobs and landscaping gigs. The pay is pretty good actually, but it is certainly not steady work. It ends up this has worked out great and I have been able to spend a large amount of my time preparing for the winter logistically and training physically. I certainly let go of most of the control I had in the work I was doing though.

But really, I am happy to make these compromises because I am looking towards the future. I am scrimping and saving for the winter. I am living with friends in one of the most beautiful parts of Vermont. I have amazing access to mountain biking, so I can train. I have a veggie garden for the first time in years. Like a bear going into torpor I’m loading up on place and relationships for the coming winter. When December 1st hits I will be 100% committed to work. Granted I love the work I will be doing, I will not have the balance. I will be in places I love, but I will also be travelling a lot. And relationships, well my touring partners will be the extent of that.

Getting ready to drop [Photo: Louis Arevalo]

Life is about finding that balance that works for you. That balance can be a current one or an evolving one. For many people the balance needs to be in constant equilibrium, for others they can front load the balance and correct later. I find the balance is much easier to keep when you relinquish control over one element and let it just fall into place. When I try to control all aspects of my life, my stress levels start to rise and all the aspects start weakening.

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Why?

I started talking to friends and family about my plan to ski 2.5 Million feet about a month ago. About a week ago I officially announced that I would be going for the record. When I tell people my plan the most common question they ask is

“Why do you want to earn and ski 2.5 Million feet?”

You might think I have a great answer all lined up, but it’s not that simple. There are a bunch of reasons that all go together that made me decided to go for it.

Among the reasons I decided to do this is for the challenge itself. Often it doesn’t matter what the challenge is, what matters is doing something that is difficult. I get a lot of satisfaction in setting a difficult goal and working to achieving it.

If that was the only reason though, I could have just tried to become the best chess player. That’s certainly a hard challenge. So there must be more to it than just the challenge.

I grew up skiing on family vacations. In high school I started alpine racing. During this time I started to fall in love with skiing. I began heading north with friends on weekends to ski and chase powder, as best as a high school student can. When I got to College I was so hooked. I started backcountry skiing and leading trips around New England. I almost skied my first 100 day season my senior year (I’m still a little bitter about the March thaw that year.)

hsracing                                                    A young Aaron ready to bash some gate [2006]

When I graduated, I got a well paying job in my field, which I quickly quit and I moved to Alta to be a ski bum. This became a theme for the next couple years. Over these few years I learned that skiing was truly what I wanted to do with my life, at least for the not too distant future.

I love skiing more than most other things in the world. I love skiing untouched snow. I love the peacefulness of standing atop an empty mountain peak for sunrise. I love skiing spines, and jumping off cliffs into a bed of stellar dendrites who’s sole job in life is to catch a falling skier and then decompose into some lesser fragmented form. And my love for all of this is amplified when I spend hours hiking uphill for each turn.

1425400_10151906153436891_1045415107_oStanding on mountains [Photo: HardcastlePhotography – Wolverine Cirque, UT]

So, if I had to summarize that into one sentence I would say, I love skiing and skinning more than most other things and what better way to enjoy it, than by skiing as much as I can fathom in a year.

But that’s still not the whole story. Since hearing about Greg Hill setting the record for most vertical in a year, I was super impressed. But, I always said it doesn’t take being a super athlete to do what he did. People who run 100 mile trail races, and sub 4 minute miles are super athletes. However to walk uphill with skis on for 10 hours a day just take commitment. OK, not just commitment, there is a certain level of fitness required, but as a non super-athlete I firmly believe it is much more a mental battle than a physical one.

Very few people have the combination of passion for skiing, physical fitness, mental craziness, willingness and ability to commit and free time to make aiming for this goal a possibility. For me the timing for all of this is perfect right now. I am young and free of responsibilities that tie me down. I have been training both physically and mentally the past 3 years for this, albeit I was unaware I was doing so.

408388_636102922781_407410201_nOld stomping grounds new angle [Photo: Adrienne – Cardiac Ridge, UT]

One person I was chatting with the other day about why i wanted to do this, asked if I was attempting the record to set a new high bar that would be hard to beat. I didn’t think to long about my answer and quickly said no, I am doing this because I love skiing, and the record just happens to be a nice way to quantify the whole process.

However in thinking about that question a bit more, I realized there was still more to it. While I am not trying to break the record in order to set the new high bar, there is an added benefit that the sport of backcountry skiing will be pushed a bit. People will see the potential that backcountry skiing offers.

Backcountry skiing does not necessarily mean less downhill than lift-serve skiing. As skiers we can backcountry ski and still spend a huge amount of time on the downhill and do it all self powered and in perfect or near perfect conditions with less crowds.

patagonia2014Down in Patagonia skiing pow with great new friends!

So why am I trying to ski 2.5 Million vertical feet in a year? Skiing is my biggest passion and it is what I love to do and what makes me the happiest. I love challenging myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I do think that by setting a new high mark for backcountry skiing it will show others the realm of possibility that the sport offers. And lastly the timing is right. If I don’t try now then when?

superiorridgeteague2013Aaron on the south ridge of Superior at sunrise [Photo: Teague Holmes]

 

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It’s All Mental!

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When I think about the upcoming year it is inevitable that I begin to wonder if what I am attempting is possible. So much could go wrong, and it is a very difficult task to imagine taking on. However, when I start to think about the possibilities, I am not worried about my legs being able to carry me, or my lungs being able to support me. That’s the easy part. The hard part is the mental game.

I worry about the 15th day in a row of 10K+ days, where my touring partners are working and the snow is a bit crusty. This is when I will have to really dig deep and convince myself that it’s worth getting out of bed at 6am for the end goal. That warm cozy bed with my down comforter and my red pillow that I have had since I was a young kid. I need to pull myself out of the comfort and jump outside into the freezing cold. However, I know that an hour into the day, as I stand on my first summit I will have no regrets about leaving the comfort of my bed. Nobody has ever regretted waking up early and climbing a mountain, at least I never have.

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Training for the physical aspect of climbing mountains all day has a formula. Set goals for vertical climbed, cross train on a bike or by running and hiking, eat right, don’t sit for long periods during the day, all things that athletes will naturally do. There is no formula though for the mental game. How do you train yourself to be better at getting out of your cozy bed every morning? How do you train yourself to not be lonely when you haven’t socialized with anyone but your touring partners in a month and a half? These are the questions I have been trying to answer recently.

One answer I have come up with is to do things that are hard. Push yourself mentally. Practice overcoming the mental battle. Right now this is taking the form of a very small goal. There is a little mountains stream that runs through my backyard. It quickly rises and falls with the rain, and the temperature changes with the sun and rain as well. But it is cold. And I mean really cold. When it has been sunny for a few days, it is bearable, but most of the time it is breath stopping, foot cramping cold. No matter how cold the stream is though after you jump in you feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

The Raging Miller Brook Dex Admiring the Raging Miller Brook

I was jumping in occasionally, maybe when other people wanted to I would push myself to jump. I realized jumping in the cold creek was the perfect mini mental battle to practice on daily. I decided for the rest of the summer, I would jump in the creek each day. If is was sweltering heat, or a grey rainy day, or I worked all day and wasn’t home in until 11pm, I would still force myself to jump in. Because after you jump in you always feel better, I am not forcing myself to do something I don’t want to do, I’m pushing myself to do something that is difficult.

While jumping in a creek is a small act each day, I hope it will be great training for getting myself up out of bed at 6am and heading out into the cold winter to walk uphill and summit mountains. I am currently on day 8.

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2.5 MIllion

So, I’m doing it! I want to officially announce that I will be attempting to ski 2.5 Million self-propelled vertical feet in a year. I plan to start December 1st.

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What has gone into this decision? I have been saying for the past few years that, while impressive, it would not take a super-human to break the record for most vertical. It would only take someone with the right amount of time and commitment. Luckily for me as a not-so-super-human, I have made myself the time to do this and I am giving myself the opportunity to prove that I have the commitment.

Over the past couple months I had my annual spring time “crisis”. You know, when skiing stops occupying all of your physical and mental space and now you have time to think about what you are doing with your life. For me this happens every spring. One year, I decided to get a desk job. Another spring I decided to follow a girl and when that didn’t work I took the opportunity to head to Patagonia for an endless winter.

This spring I was on the fence again. Work? in VT? software? in CO? guide? Climb? Pimp out a van and live in there? or commit fully to the insane endeavor of trying to break the record for most vertical feet earned in a year? After a few weeks of clearing my head in the desert, climbing, mountains biking, and even skiing a bit, I had made up my mind. It still took me a couple more weeks to really understand that this was my decision.

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Once I was in and knew it, I started getting ready. The past few weeks, I have been working on a website, planning for the year, and talking with companies and non-profits to work with. This has been close to a fully time job over the last couple weeks. I have been living in my friends basement, picking up random craigslist jobs, working just enough to break even.

So what does this mean looking into the future? Achieving this goal is as much, if not more, a mental battle as is it physical. I plan to ramp-up my training as the summer progresses. The training will reflect the goal. For example, I have decided to jump in the creek behind my house everyday. Jumping in a freezing cold creek is never easy, especially if it is wet out, or night time. However, nobody has ever regretted the refreshing feeling after dunking in a mountain stream. Just as skiing a straight month of 10k days is will never be easy, it will be incredible rewarding if I can overcome the mental battle each morning to just jump in.

I also plan to start pushing the length of my mountain bike rides. 3-4 hours on a mountain bike can be exhausting, but I want to be able to go 6-8 comfortably by the end of the summer season. I think this is a good reflection of the pace of backcountry skiing. I also have a couple trips planned for the summer to keep me on my toes.

I will be posting near daily updates to Instagram @airandrice, on Strava, and right here at airandrice.com

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Skiing the East Coast on the 4th of July!!!

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4th of July Bowl, Indy Pass, The Great One, Mt. Hood… Argentina?. There are plenty of classic places to go make some celebratory 4th of July turns. Skiing on the 4th is a fantastic tradition that exercises your freedom as an American to the max. I often hear  people say though that skiing on the 4th is only for Colorado, or Volcanoes in the Pac NW. If you are stuck on the East Coast you are out of luck.

Tucks from afar Tucks from afar

Not true though! Tuckerman ravine often holds snow into July, and occasionally even August. It is a quick and beautiful hike. This year there was about 500ft of skiable snow left in the run formerly known as Sluice.

Only me up there at 8:30 Only me up there at 8:30

I left Stowe, VT at 4:30 am and pulled into a nearly empty lot at 7:30. I jogged up to Hermit Lake, ate a bite and kept climbing.

Sluice glacier Sluice glacier

The Sluice Glacier was looking good and dirty. A couple stream were flowing underneath it, but it looked safe enough.

Dirty snow Dirty snow

i took 4 runs for the 4th and called it a day. On my way down I ran into the Northeastern Outing Club on their annual pilgrimage to Tucks. They were is stellar form, decked out in ‘Murica wear, bikinis, grill and beers in hand.

Northeastern Outing Club representing hard! Northeastern Outing Club representing hard!

I celebrated the 4th of July, skiing in July, and my 23rd consecutive month skiing with a quick dip in the creek on the way down.

Quick Dip Quick Dip

What a way to celebrate this freedoms we are fortunate enough to have in this country!

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