Category Archives: Montana Experience

Jasper

I hate posts about not writing. Plenty of adventures being had, but I haven’t written about them. I miss that and hope to get back to it soon. One adventure though is just starting: we got a dog and named him Jasper:

His first day with us. Photo by A.

I’ve never had a dog before- it’s awesome. The responsibility is terrifying and frustrating, and confusing. I was skeptical on getting a “designer” dog from a breeder, but even in these first few weeks his calm temperament and natural joyfulness have won me over.

This little dude is game. 100%. Game.

I’ve never enjoyed dog slobber, or picking up poop, even my neighbors dog barking typically draws my ire. My now regular interactions with these things have opened my eyes to how petty I’ve been. To how much I can love something despite the complexity it adds to my life.

Not sure who is on which end of the leash here. Photo by A.

I’ve always tended to frame challenges in metrics: the length of a run or the difficulty of a climb. One great piece of marriage advice I got around our wedding last year: “the point of marriage isn’t about the title or the experience of love- it’s a growth opportunity, for you, to grow in ways that literally no other thing can teach you.” There are no metrics for that. Abigail and I might feed and walk Jasper, but it sure seems like he will end up providing much more for us than we can measure.

Photo by Jasper’s breeder, Sheila

Thanks Yellowstone Springers for a truly amazing addition to our family.

Still The Best Day

Working hard up Headwaters Ridge, the wind pushed through my T-shirt and I thought to myself “enjoy this, it will be the last time today that you are cold.” Being right is over-rated.

The Rut, Big Sky Mountain Resort, Steven Gnam

Me. South Ridge, Lone Peak. Photo Credit: Steven Gnam.

The 2016 Rut 50km race got cut short due to snow. The 2017 race was about performing in the heat. I am in no way a hot weather animal, and September 3rd was a warm one. With some experience though, I picked an appropriate motto for the race and shared it eagerly with spectators and other racers- “today is still the best day.” After a long summer of training, race day was both a joy and a relief.

I was lucky to have a deep bench of support this year. Devon ran the 28km on Saturday, his wife Katie ran the 11km on Sunday, and both Michael and Abigail lined up for the 50km with me. Our little crew shared a house just down the valley from the mountain, and the stoke was high all weekend. Bonus stoke from seeing Missoula peeps like Evan, Brink, Nick, and Damian.

I had a clear training plan throughout the summer, and a detailed spreadsheet that paced me to my goal of breaking 7 hours, but once it got hot, that just didn’t seem as important as running smart and strong. I did a good job eating and drinking early, and made the wise decision to put a hydration pack in my drop bag at mile 18, before the big push over Lone Peak and Andesite Mtn. I felt great and stayed on pace out to approximately mile 22, but after a pounding descent and a little route finding, the heat caught me off-guard.  I fought desperate cramping in my quads and hamstrings for the rest of the race- many others faced the same demons.

Outdoor Research, visors, runtherut, hammernutrition

Obligatory salt-stained visor.

I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. I never ran out of water, my head was clear for the whole race, and my heartrate average was below 150bpm. I started taking salt tabs early in the race (and ended up taking 12 in total), and stayed on a disciplined slow pace early on. Other than the cramping, my legs felt strong all the way through, but the warm temperatures and full sun exposure on many parts of the course simply took it out of me. I finished as the 51st male- 15 places and 22 minutes better than my previous bests, and I feel pretty good about that.

I also absolutely must call out Abigail. It was her first 50km race, and her goals were simply to have finish and have fun. She was the 13th woman and probably ran the best race of all of us. She even had enough left in the tank to play with a puppy as soon as she crossed the finish line. Holy smokes.  The photos just after the finish line tell all:

Once again, The Rut delivers a superb racing experience, community, and sense of accomplishment in the face of adversity. Doubly cool to work with Devon and Michael, people you want to run something hard with.

mckinstry, engineering, runtherut

The place brings us together.

I love this stuff.

 

 

Copyright: Skander Spies, 2017

If You Loved Me

Sometimes you have to leave the things you love the most.

It’s my last night in Missoula. The house is cleaned, the truck is packed. I’m tired from driving back from my climbing trip, but have a few more miles to go. I don’t have the energy to type out all of the emotion coursing through my veins.

I’m grateful to be with some of my closest friends as I cast off, but leaving them is a double edged sword. I’m excited to work again, to explore a new place, to embrace the hustle and bustle of the city. And I’m scared. Of the bigness. Of losing the familiar smallness, of forging new friends, and breaking all of my patterns.

Scared of leaving this place that has felt more like home than any place that I have been so far.

Four years ago, I was in a very similar place. In the cycles of life, tipping past midnight will never be comfortable. And it is always necessary.

Uhaul truck, loaded truck, moving truck,

Keeping growing. Especially when it hurts.

The Next Big Thing

Slowly, the word has spread and I’d like to get ahead of it here. It’s time that Skander started getting after the next big thing.

Well. This is unusual.

Well. This is unusual.

It’s been a while since I’ve worn my suit for anything serious. I like to think I still look pretty good in it. On January 15th I tendered my resignation and drove to Seattle for back to back job interviews. It was the sort of affair that you would want to look good in a suit for.

I’ve limited some of the details that I have shared on this blog, but it became clear at the end of 2014 that my professional life needed to move in a different direction. Over the holidays, my family gave me another good nudge. I’m very grateful for the experience I’ve had working in Missoula, and hope to depart without burning any bridges.

I’ve wanted a Professional Engineers license for over 10 years. Since becoming a contractor, I’ve developed a much better sense of where I want to take my career, and the time-honored craft of professional engineering. I’ve also learned that the most fundamental tenant in all of business is trust- at the end of the day, when the client experiences what they thought they bought from you, you’ve built trust. That’s the key to success. I’m eager to fill out the holes in my professional skill set, and take my game to the next level.

The immediate hole is design. Design gives me the power and confidence that I can deliver on the vision of how I think buildings should work. I have a long term plan to make a big impact on the sustainability of our built environment- the sales and analysis work I’ve done in the past are only parts of the whole. I’m past the point now where I’m debating switching careers or “exploring”. It’s time to  plug the rest of the holes and get moving in a big way. That means letting go of the comfortable things. It means chasing the skills I don’t have, and finding next set of smart people to work with and learn from.

It was a rough drive to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

It was not a comfortable trip to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

Specifically, that means I am moving to Seattle. This past weekend I felt fortunate to accept an offer of employment from a firm that seems to value who I am, my somewhat non-traditional experience, and my intense drive towards sustainable design. The position is in mechanical design and I’m genuinely excited to get after it. I’ll have more to say once I actually start work on April 6.

I will miss the ever-loving shit out of Missoula, and Montana as a whole. While that won’t be fun, it is also worth mentioning that that my landing in Seattle will be significantly softer due to a really incredible woman I’ve gotten to know in the past few months. More on both of these items later.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

 

While it reminds me of a Dr. Seuss drawing, Beargrass is a special plant in the Montana mountains. Deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness last weekend, it was in rare form.

Joe in rare fields of white.

Joe in rare fields of white.

Martin, Joe, and I burned out of Missoula promptly on Wednesday afternoon. Our travel plan was loose and our packs were light. The Bob Marshall/Scapegoat/Great Bear wilderness complex is one of the largest protected wilderness areas in the United States, and home to some spectacular treasures. It feels the most like Alaska of any place I’ve been here. We walked, and occasionally ran, a lot of miles. Details really aren’t necessary. We had an amazing, beautiful time.

Getting into the business.

Getting into the business.

With a little luck, clockwise was the correct direction for our loop.

With a little luck, clockwise was the correct direction for our loop.

24 miles back, the Chinese Wall is worth the walk.

24 miles back, the Chinese Wall is worth the walk.

Sunrise.

Sunrise.

Big skies.

Big skies.

Quick work of the trip home.

Quick work of the trip home.

 

Catalyst

My brother sent me a note and mentioned that he had found a clothing company that fit his values after following a link from this site.

If you’ve followed stickthefeeling for a while, you know that this isn’t really just an adventure blog anymore. I’ve been in flux about what exactly I would like it to be, but his note gave me some definition.

I want this site to be a catalyst for a life of abundance.

To inspire us to realize that we have more than we need, but nothing to waste. Abundance of adventure, of activity, but also abundance of the quality of life that I enjoy. A catalyst for authentic connection between people. For real energy conservation, and delicious local food. For our lungs searing on clear air as we climb each of our respective philosophical and geophysical mountains. For fewer physical things, less worry, and quiet. For deeper self examination, greater freedom, and a baseline of confidence that somehow my generation came up short on. That I come up short on.

that spot, just a random one on the trail. is sacred.

that spot, just a random one on the trail. is sacred.

In engineering, a catalyst lowers the amount of energy required for a particular chemical reaction to occur successfully, thereby increasing the likelihood of successful interactions and products. I’d like to think that reading this space might make it easier to find a better climb, a more passionate wilderness, or more joyful laughter.  After 3+ years of writing, it serves as a regular reminder for me to pursue what I want most. And what can be let go of to get the good stuff.

it is such a privilege to welcome others into our lives, even when that seems scary. (Photo: Trevien Stanger)

it is such a privilege to welcome others into our lives. (Photo: Trevien Stanger)

There is a place and space, and a time and people, that warrant our deepest, most fierce attentions. That time is now, and the things we need most are the ones we already have. The most important people are the ones we are with, and whether we trust it or not- the space we are in at this very moment, is sacred.

and silliness. don't forget silliness. (Photo: Trevien)

and silliness. don’t forget silliness. (Photo: Trevien)

The photos are from a quick trip up St. Marys peak in the Bitterroot last Sunday with Nick Triolo and Trevien Stanger. Two amazing men that make it easy for me to be more of who I hope to be, all the time.

“The realization that we have more than enough is irresistibly powerful.”

(ed. note: many others have written on the topic of abundance. I stole mine a while back after reading this, here)

Endurance

“This feels good man, just real good.” I bounced past a mountain biker, and a few minutes later, past the spot where I had bonked on the trail last September. Nick and I were out for a run and the stoke was high. That morning he had suggested “let’s just get out and turn over the legs for 3 hours,” but earlier in our planning Nick had mentioned my favorite words – “I want to get out and suffer.”

Making good time.

Martin- making good time.

I was in 7th grade when I discovered I loved endurance sports. I ran every single day that year. I ran in hiking boots in the Chicago winter, and lived for summer runs along Lake Michigan. I loved that it made me lean and quick. Even then I knew, I wanted to move fast and light in the mountains.

Early morning light, starts all good adventures.

Early morning light, starts all good adventures.

After last weekend, I’m just not worried about my foot holding me back much any more. I started my 4th of July at 430am, rolling out of bed, throwing a carefully packed bag in the car, and meeting Martin by 5. I’ve wanted to get high in the Missions since I first saw them, and Martin had been itching to get on top of McDonald Peak. I left the car in running shoes with simple bivy gear, boots, and ice axe on my back.

Fast and light.

Fast and light.

First sight of the objective.

First sight of the objective.

We made good time on trail, and kept moving across excellent snow conditions- supportable, but not icy. The last few slopes were a slog but the final summit ridge took a little rock climbing savvy to tick the peak in 7hrs 20 from the car. We had dropped the bivy gear at the last basin, descended back to it and looked forward to a comfortable night in the range.

Mission vista.

Mission vista.

Summit. Windy.

Summit. Windy.

While stoked on the event, the summit, and the experience, I got back to Missoula knowing I had a little more in me. Nick texted, and Sunday morning we headed up to the Rattlesnake to try beating the heat that was sinking into the valley.

Descending into heat.

Descending into heat.

We didn’t really intend to summit Sheep Mountain, it just kinda happened, and it only took 2 hours of running. The only problem was I really wasn’t prepared for the return. A 4 hour run requires some planning, particularly around hydration and nutrition. I had packed 260 calories, and one hand bottle of water- barely enough for the 3 hour run Nick and I had originally planned, but not nearly enough for the 4 hour endeavor it became. I bonked the first time at 2hr 30, but was able to get up, get moving, and fire off quite a few more miles.

About 1 1/2 miles from the trailhead the bonk hit hard. The heat takes it out of you. Nick put my arm over his shoulder and we walked together, one step at a time towards the water in the car. We crested the last hill and I let go, coasting down to the car under my own power, but humbled by the harshness of finding my endurance limit. Nick, of course, was still going strong. Together we covered 22 miles and 3,500 feet of vertical gain (and 3,500ft of loss). It was the longest duration I’ve ever run (Chicago Marathon only took 3hrs 13min, but it was flat). I laughed at myself after a soak in the creek and a burrito.

After the hardest bonk ever, in any sport.

After the hardest bonk ever, in any sport.

Its been a long time since I tried something hard and really failed, but I think in finding a limit, there was a certain success. Nick is an ultra-marathoner that I deeply respect. Sharing my limit with him was a privilege, and I hope to return the favor some day. “Ultra” is a state of mind, and I think I’m just starting to understand what that looks like. To both Martin and Nick (and Madison, the dog) thanks for reminding me of some of the things I loved the longest. Life is a long game, it’s fun to practice playing.

Long effort requires long rest.

Long effort requires long rest.