Nutrition and Recipes

Flavor Explosion in T-Minus 30 Minutes: Sweet Potato Hash

My sister…basically super mom

I LOVE meal prepping. It embodies the kind of mother and working professional that I long to be – organized, sophisticated, practical, a true go-getter.

And some magical days, it is all true; life finds a way to bring the moments of my day a beautiful and effortless tapestry of efficiency.

When I do manage to pull it off, I give all the credit to my sister.

My sister is a master meal prepper. She is a master at almost everything mom-life. From Halloween parties to baby showers to nights out with friends to baby-breakfast gatherings, her house is spotless, her children groomed and thriving, her hair perfectly curled and her brows expertly micro-bladed. I might hate her if I didn’t love and admire her so. Did I mention that she meal preps by the week? As in, she meal preps weeks out – 14 perfectly portioned chicken breasts in 14 perfectly sealed containers with green beans, potatoes, and pepper.

Me…ehh, not so much

I will be honest – I am not my sister. I try. Sometimes I fake it – but there is no denying it.

I might love meal prepping; it doesn’t change the fact that I am TERRIBLE  at it. I don’t know what I’m going five minutes before I actually do it  Planning my meals for a week? Really? It’s almost 3 and I still have no idea what I am making for dinner…and I still won’t…as I’ll most likely get distracted by something else that needs doing post blog…Pre-baby, my idea of meal prepping was downing my beer sampler post bike ride.

So, while I preach meal prepping to my challengers, I know from personal experience that it doesn’t always happen and it isn’t always possible. Thus, I need a collection of easy, healthy, veggie first and taste most recipes that I can make on a moment’s notice.

Enter the sweet potato:

See the source image

Who doesn’t love this incredible starchy, sweet, sexy hunk of Earth? And guess what – it is even BETTER when assembled with other veggies.

Enter my fav mid-week super mom hack – sweet potato hash.

My husband loves it; my son loves it; my mother-in-law got seconds! It can also easily be made vegetarian (just more veggies, less meat) and is already beautifully gluten free. It works best and is healthiest with venison sausage (venison mixed with a bit of pork sausage, chorizo style) but can be made with turkey sausage or even good old pork sausage. It makes a great meal and better left overs; it has the feel of a slow cooked casserole, but can be made on a stove in half the time.

It is basically perfect.

And as with all things, let your personal tastes and spice tolerance guide you.

Sweet Potato and Sausage Hash (in a Pan)

Prep Time     15 minutes

Cook Time    20 minutes

Total Time    35 minutes

Ingredients (if going veggie, omit sausage and add more root veggies)

  • 1 lb Bulk Sausage (of any kind – I love venison or full on pork – turkey works, but you should add some fat of some kind to give it more body)
  • 2-3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into small cubes
  • LOTS of spinach
  • 1 red pepper
  • LOTS of portabella mushrooms
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
  • Salt + pepper
  • 1/4 c. Cheddar Cheese (if desired)
  • 1/2 c. water or stock

Instructions

  1. Saute sausage over medium heat until cooked. Drain excess fat. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large sauce pan.
  3. Add garlic and onion.
  4. Add sweet potatoes. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat or until outside of potatoes are browned.
  5. Add red pepper, spinach, and mushrooms. Stir and continue to cook over medium heat. 5 minutes.
  6. Add water and stir. Cover. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes, or until potatoes are soft.
  7. Decrease heat. Add sausage. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir.
  8. Add cheddar cheese. Cover and let sit on low heat for 1-2 minutes.
  9. Serve!
Nutrition and Recipes

Veggies Most: Getting Creative with Spaghetti Squash

I love all things spice. In my younger years of unstoppable optimism and blissful financial ignorance, I spent a great deal of money on travel (work in the summer, transfer my box of dollar bills into American Express Traveler’s Checks, and dart off for the fall). I spent a good deal of time in South East Asia, savoring the red skies and spices of India.

There is nothing that can compare to the vibrancy, the intensity of South East Asia – from the people, to the streets, to the food, every part of one’s day, every moment, is saturated in vivid intensity. Every flavor, heightened; every sense and sensation, rising to meet it.

The bad is that much worse, but the good times? They are branded into my memory and my soul (and that goes doubly for the food).

Sadly, American-ized South East Asian cuisine lacks that same vibrancy – the colors, the ingredients, the flavors are there. But they are almost always missing something. 

When pregnant with my son, Atticus, I went on a spice binge of epic proportions. I craved curry and pad thai. I longed for Delhi street foods and pomegranates. I dreamed of samosas and butter chicken and even that bite of fennel at the end of an epic meal.

I worked with what I had. I would routinely order an already spicy and delicious red curry with tofu from a little restaurant in Crested Butte (legendary among ski circles) known as Ryce. I would order it extra extra EXTRA spicy… with extra EXTRA veggies, and then add my own spices for good measure.

Now, a tad more comfortable in the kitchen and a bit more conscious, I am convinced that the secret to a great bit of spice lies in the cooks and the hands that prepare it. The right mindset, that slow consistent effort, that dedication to simple things done with passion – that is the secret to a good, spicy bit of heaven.

That, and a lot of veggies.

Yes, it’s true. Veggies are the spice of LIFE. They provide nourishment and joy. They make every meal better. And they make my body sing and my spirit shine.

Rice and noodles, I have found, just dull all that spicy goodness. Like a sponge, they steal all my flavor into a bed of dully beige “bleh.” And, after all, I’d rather have more room in my belly for the “good stuff.”

Thus, a bit of creativity, a lot of love, and more veggies later, I have perfected it: my spicy, veggie most, all the GOOD stuff, Pad Thai.

Trust me. You want some (did I mention it’s pretty healthy? There is literally no down side to my favorite meal – I’d make it every night if my husband would permit it…and sometimes I do – just for me).

Are you ready for this? It (and spaghetti squash) might just change your life for the better.

NOTE: Spaghetti Squash is an amazing vegetable. If you have never had it, you need to change that – immediately. When cooked it has the consistency of rice noodles (just with a LOT more flavor and nutrients). What’s more, the squash does not get soggy when saturated in curry-goodness, and it does not change its texture when re-heated. It’s my miracle plant (and I cannot WAIT to grow a few hundred of them in our garden this year).

Veggie Most: Spicy Pad Thai

Pad Thai with Spaghetti Squash

Prep Time     20 minutes

Cook Time    1 hour 30  minutes

Total Time    1 hour 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium spaghetti squash
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2-4 tbs water
  • 2+ tbs siracha
  • 3 tbs cornstarch
  • 2 tbs oil (peanut oil is recommended)
  • 12 oz. extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, beans, or other veggie
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 green onions, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tbs. chopped peanuts
  • Jalopeno, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • lime wedges
  • cilantro
  • Crushed red pepper
  • fish sauce (optional)

Instructions

Preparing the Squash

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

  2. Place squash on a parchment lined baking sheet. Poke squash 2 or 3 times with a fork. Bake for 60 to 80 minutes. Cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds. Scrape flesh into stringy noodles. Set aside.

Preparing the sauce

  1. Combine vinegar, water, honey, and sriracha in sauce pan. Hear over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add fish sauce if desired. Add additional water if needed.  Add more/less of honey and heat according to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preparing the tofu

  1. Coat tofu in cornstarch in a small bowl; mix.
  2. Heat large skillet over high heat. Add oil (peanut oil preferred) and coat pan.
  3. Add tofu.
  4. Watch diligently, stirring frequently until all sides are brown.
  5. Remove from pan and set aside.

Preparing the eggs

  1. Add oil to pan; coat.
  2. Add eggs; cook over medium heat. Create a thin omelette. When cooked, chop eggs with spatula. Remove from heat and set aside.

Putting it all together

  1. Add oil to pan; coat.
  2. Add garlic and onion. Saute over medium heat for 1 minute.
  3. Add jalapenos (if desired) and red pepper (or other veggies).
  4. Add spaghetti squash in layers. Cook each layer for 1 minute, stirring frequently until squash is warm and golden brown.
  5. Fold sauce into squash. Mix.
  6. Add green onions and bean sprouts. Mix.
  7. Add tofu. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring frequently.
  8. Transfer to a serving platter. Serve with peanuts, lime wedges, cilantro, and crushed red pepper. Serve immediately or store for later.

pad thai recipe with spaghetti squash

Recommendations

I like to double, even triple, the sauce (and quadruple the spice) – but that is up to you!

You can substitute the tofu for more veggie or chicken (I recommend marinating the chicken the night before with some lime and yogurt).

This meal stores well for about 3 days. Prep ahead of time and enjoy a savory lunch for DAYS!

While nothing can compare to the “real thing,” with a bit of love, this healthy, scrumptious dish comes close. Enjoy with the people you love!

Nutrition and Recipes

Take Back Breakfast: Savory Style

Eggs! Who doesn’t love eggs? I do. So does my husband.

And we eat a lot – like 6-10 eggs A DAY a lot. But actually making eggs every morning? That’s where things get tricky. I’ll be honest. Unless I pre-make breakfast, breakfast as a meal doesn’t happen.

Coffee will happen.

But food, as in actual nourishment? Unless I can grab it and go, the only thing I will consume is the sweet, sweet caffeine nectar hitting my system.

Do I need more coffee? No. What I NEED is food. Delicious, protein first, veggie most, kind of food.

So how do I get eggs in a “grab and go” system? Simple.

Egg cups. These cups are PERFECT for mornings on the run (or even afternoons on the run). They are easy to make, easy to enjoy, packed with good stuff (protein + veggies) and easy to re-heat.  You can also add sausage, bacon, turkey bacon, peppers…the sky is ALMOST the limit. Did I also mention that they are perfect for kids and babies?

My 12 month old son LOVES these (and I think you will to!). From business meetings to camping to mountain bike races, these cups go everywhere that I do, fueling my body for a day of adventure.

Eggs On the Go Breakfast CupsSweet Potato Egg Cups

Prep Time     10 minutes

Cook Time     25 minutes

Total Time     35 minutes

Servings        12 serving

Ingredients

  • 12 eggs
  • 2 c. of spinach
  • 1 c. mushrooms
  • 1/c. cheese
  • Salt + pepper to taste
  • cooking spray
  • Salsa or hot sauce (optional)

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Beat eggs + salt + pepper in large mixing bowl.
  3. Take a muffin pan; coat each muffin tin with a quick splash of cooking spray (you can also dip a cloth in olive oil and wipe each tin).
  4. Place spinach and mushrooms in each tin (go NUTS here).
  5. Pour egg mixture into each muffin tin.
  6. Top with a sprinkle of cheese (you only need a bit!)
  7. Place in oven; cook for about 25 minutes (check after 20).
  8. Set to cool for about 10 minutes.
  9. EAT! or…
  10. Portion out, wrap, and refrigerate. These cups will be delicious for about three-five days and take just seconds to warm up in the microwave.

I highly recommend serving these with salsa or hot sauce…but you do you! Just remember to enjoy!

Fitness Challenge

80 Day Obsession Review

80 Day Obsession took my winter by storm; it was a simple invitation and a seemingly simple challenge – eat like an athlete; train like an athlete; every day.

As a self-proclaimed athlete, this seemed relatively straightforward. I had committed to various exercise and training programs in the past. I had explored all the diets and food plans – from starvation-inspired cleanses (lemon juice for three days anyone?) to the “I-am-a-ski-bum-I-eat-ALL-the-pizza” (and whatever whiskey someone buys me).

For the next 80 days, I would eat less (a LOT less), and I would exercise more – a LOT more.  I would lose weight. I would gain muscle. I would plateau. And then, begin all over again.

Like clockwork – right?

After day 1, however, I realized that, while the program was simple and straightforward, the journey would not be. And, in fact, much of my journey would involve shattering misconceptions about fitness and rediscovering the power of community and its importance to health, wellness, and athletic performance.

About Me

I am a 32 year old mother to a kind, happy, and active 11 month old boy, Atticus, whom I am breastfeeding. I am also a teacher, a writer, and a self-proclaimed workaholic (80 hour weeks? I love them). Prior to becoming a mother, I took pride in my label as a mountain athlete. Skier, mountain biker, hiker – even yoga star from time to time – I did it all. I was also a recovering anorexic and have struggled, in the past, with weight, body image, and nutrition. I still tended to fluctuate between extremes: eating next to nothing in desperate bid to whittle away at my already petite frame and reclaim some measure of control over my life vs. eating everything and anything I had previously forbidden in a desperate attempt to silence those insecurities and affirm that my disorder was far, far behind me.

And while I had reached some measure of stability weight-wise due to my passion for mountain sports, I still battled old demons.

I was also the queen of “cycles.” In the “on” seasons of summer and winter, I was extremely active – playing in the high alpine mountains surrounding Crested Butte, Colorado every possible moment. In the off season, I slacked and binged to equal extremes. Getting fit again for “on” season often required extreme diets and, worse, simply “diving in” – going on brutal and demanding expeditions and ever more extreme feats (I believe they call this “skiing yourself into shape”). These were usually successful; though, from time to time, they also led to injury (the “blown knee” kind of injury that comes from hucking a cliff early season with Jim Beam-soaked noodles as opposed to quads).

None of these extremes were healthy and they both had a negative impact on my mental health, my physical strength, and of course, my athletic performance.

Thus, while I looked healthy (and from outside appearances was strong and capable), I often realized that appearance through unhealthy means; my relationship with food and nutrition was particularly terrible (I would often eat a pack of Skittles prior to a bike race for “energy” – a practice I inherited from my Grandfather who, naturally athletic and opposed to “prissy things” like training, would eat Snickers and down a 40 prior to his 40+ mile swims – then feel guilty and fast for 8+ hours).

During my pregnancy I had gained about 45 pounds (which felt like 60 on my frame); my husband and I had also lost our housing (renting in a ski town is rough) when I was 8 months pregnant, prompting a cross country move, the purchase of a new home in a different state and community, the rush to find a midwife we trusted, and the chaos of giving birth at home while still unpacking.

In short, my life was chaos and my body reflected this.

My Goals

Physical fitness had always been a structuring force in my life (and after a ridiculously chaotic move followed by the birth of our son and a lengthy recovery, I NEEDED structure and focus); what’s more, if I wasn’t strong and capable, I couldn’t wander in the mountains – and this was not an option. The mountains helped me to recover from and to keep the symptoms of my eating disorder at bay. They were a force of life, joy, and goodness which demanded strength, stamina, and respect. I NEEDED to get back out there (with my son in tow), and I needed to be strong to do this.

My goals were:

  • To lose any remaining pregnancy weight
  • To regain my previous levels of strength and endurance (and more!)
  • To increase muscle mass and strength, particularly in my glutes and shoulders
  • To reestablish a sense of structure and stability in my life
  • To improve my mood and manage depression and anxiety in a healthy way
  • To improve nutrition and cultivate a healthy relationship with food
  • To ultimately get back on my bike and back into the mountains in time for a summer of adventures

And most importantly, to accomplish each of these things while still breastfeeding my son, caring for my household, and maintaining my career as a writer and a teacher.

As a new mother, I knew that my previous strategy (if you could call it that) of weight loss and strength training were NOT an option (and I refused to pass on or model any unhealthy habits to my son). Thus, at the encouragement of my yoga instructor, Keileen Dillon, I registered for 80 Day Obsession.

80 Day Obsession: An Overview

Summer = more of this!

80 Day Obsession is the brain child of fitness trainer, Autumn Calabrese, and is offered through Beach Body and Beach Body on Demand. It is the “big sister” of Autumn’s previous programs, 21 Day Fix and 21 Day Fix Extreme. In my opinion, it is an ideal program for “shredding” and for muscle growth as it targets and works the abs, core, and glutes extensively.

The 80 day program combines daily 45-60 minute workouts with timed nutrition and a clean eating program. Specific foods are consumed at specific times to fuel the body, promote muscle growth, increase endurance and stamina, and slim and tone.

Key to the nutrition program is a period called a “workout block” – with specific foods, in a specific ratio, consumed at specific times before and after a workout. Shakeology and the performance line are integrated within the nutrition plan seamlessly and are a vital part of its success.

Every day, we completed a unique workout to prevent plateau and to ensure continuous results. The workouts, while unique, followed a pattern with each workout targeting different goals and a different area of the body (legs, cardio, core, etc.).

The program was divided into three key phases, each with its own goals:

  • Phase 1 promoted weight loss and an opportunity to dial in nutrition and adapt to both the workouts and the concept of timed eating.
  • Phase 2 involved heavier lifting; weight loss slowed; the pronounced goal was to increase strength and muscle mass.
  • Phase 3 was the “shredding” phase where plyometrics were added in addition to more complex movements and strength training to elevate heart rates, promote fat burning, and increase endurance.

Mom Concerns

We give “modifying” a whole new meaning.

As a new mother, I had several key concerns (and a few blessings).

At 7 months post partum, I was still breastfeeding; we could not afford formula and thus, losing my supply was NOT an option. My son was also extremely attached – we baby wore almost constantly; he refused to sleep; I was exhausted and unsure if I could manage to separate myself from him for 10 minutes, let alone 60.

The timed nutrition added another layer of concern – I barely had time to shower, let alone prepare healthy, clean foods in specific portions, and to then consume said food at specific times. My breakfast consisted of coffee, my lunch – well, it was often grabbing some chips while racing to and from the nursery and my office. How the hell was I going to pull this off?

Finally, when I calculated my nutrition per day – I was shocked. I was going to be eating a ridiculous amount of food.

Deliciouness? Anyone?

In fact, I often struggled to eat enough. I had always lost weight in the past by cutting calories and food in take – not by drastically increasing it; many of the members of my team expressed this concern as well – with some confessing that they were going to say they were eating in one food bracket while secretly cutting calories by an additional 500 or so, just to be safe. This became so common that Autumn addressed this in a live stream (and royally reprimanded us in the process).

Completing the program was one concern; committing to and trusting the program? That was something else entirely.

Breaking Through

Phase 1 was a struggle; it took a great deal of flexibility and adaptation to make the system work. What’s more, as the program was very different from my previous fitness experiences, I was unsure if it was or would work. I was completing my workouts – but I was never “destroyed.” I was eating more than I had in years, and I was actually working out less (I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t running 10 miles on empty and then rocking a hot yoga class, followed by a bike ride). I was fairly certain I was wasting my time. But I had committed to the process and the program. I was not going to cheat it or myself; I was going to trust it. And so, every day, I pushed play. I aimed for sobriety. I became a meal prep queen. I dialed in.

24 days later – phase 1 pictures revealed something astonishing: results.

Progression

In phase 2, those results became even more pronounced.

Phase 3? You get the idea.

80 days later…

I was not perfect on nutrition, unfortunately. There were mistakes and slip ups (maybe a glass of wine here or there). I needed heavier weights. My son refused to sleep. But I never missed a workout. I stayed committed. I did my best.

And in doing my best, I learned a great deal about myself, about fitness, and about life long health and wellness. Namely:

  • Eating more of the right foods is critical to wellness and fitness
  • Your body needs to be nourished to transform; self care and self love is critical to realizing gains and success in any fitness program
  • Soreness is not an accurate measure of developing strength or transformation
  • Community is the secret weapon to a successful fitness program

The Importance of Community

The key to this success was my community. As a member of the Sol Unleashed Project, I made a promise to a circle of likeminded women and men – I promised to commit, to give the best of myself, to finish strong, and to support them in the process. We each had our own journeys, goals, and destinations; but we walked those paths together, embracing each other’s successes and struggles with grace, compassion, and of course, strength. I drew upon that strength and used it nearly every day to inspire my progress and to do the hard things, day in and day out. I can honestly say that, without my community, I would have most likely quit in week 3 when the initial excitement ran dry and life stepped up to bombard me with setbacks.

Criticisms

Autumn is not everyone’s cup of tea; she is an incredible trainer and often a source of inspiration. However, I did not enjoy just how much talking there was, often prompted by Autumn who shouted at the cast for conversation (which I could not hear as no one else had a mic). It was a distraction, and, not only did it seem out of sorts and character, it also seemed forced and unhelpful. These conversations were often social and not particularly helpful in regards to form, advice, or recommendations. I am not one who likes to converse about anything but lifting when lifting; I like to get the form down, crank the tunes, and buckle in with minimal chit chat (but this is simply a personal criticism and preference).

I also found, at times, that the pace of workouts was varied to an extreme; there were times when each rep seemed to take much longer (with pauses for conversation and comments + unnecessary rests) and other times when it seemed like a race to finish (most likely due to those increased and unnecessary pauses and the pressure of the clock and of BOD to finish in under 60 minutes).  This is something that could easily be dialed in.

Praises

The overall format and the emphasis on nutrition AND exercise (and the union of the two) was profound and ultimately, life changing. To quote Donald (one of the challengers), it “gave me a new way to live” – a new way to think about nutrition, eating, fitness, and exercise and a healthier way to integrate this philosophy into my daily life.

While there were some workouts that I preferred (and others that I dreaded), none were a waste. Each was inventive, unique, challenging, and effective.  The combination of core work with cardio, and the creative use of both bands and sliders to reinvent well known movements was powerful and, well, fun.

With regards to my criticisms, I did appreciate the organic feel to the program and the workouts. There was little pressure, an incredible amount of support and encouragement, and a sense of being “in it” with Autumn and her team. We were all learning together which prompted changed, adaptations, and a true sense of community.

Would I Do the Program Again?

Absolutely! I plan to revisit both Phase 2 and Phase 3 regularly (sorry phase 1) in preparation for future mountain adventures. I also plan to integrate specific workouts within larger programs and training regimens.

Most notably, however, I plan to stick with the nutrition. It has been a revelation and has resulted in an incredible transformation, both physically and emotionally. For the first time in my life, I feel as though I have a positive and health relationship with food and that I now have the tools to care for and nourish my body for life.

In short? What I gained is more important than what I lost. I lost weight; I lost inches – I gained:

  • Confidence
  • Community
  • Health
  • Strength
  • A sense of purpose
  • Joy
  • Agency
  • Hope

Are you interested in joining our community and starting 80 Day Obsession? Click here to purchase your challenge pack. Next round starts May 1.

Click here to see more transformations from the Sol Unleashed Project.

Mom Life, Mountain Adventures

Easter on the Homestead

Sunday was Easter; in our family, it’s a big deal. It is a day of carefully crafted, beautifully lazy moments and memories, of figurative bunnies, baskets, love, prayer, and gratitude, off mass and grace – an opportunity to reflect on the divine in our every day lives and to celebrate hope, rebirth, and the goodness within each of us.

You may be rolling your eyes. I hope not. But you may be. And I understand completely.

It’s a strange thing…faith – a word wrapped in considerable doubt, angst, and lore. Divisive, even.

But, if there is one thing being a mother and an athlete has taught me, it is that faith (in anything good) and a strong moral compass are as essential to adventure, safety, and happiness in the mountains as an actual compass.

That will require some explanation…thus, let me explain.

Faith, Fitness, & Mountains

Faith in the context of fitness and extreme sports seems unnecessary, superstitious, even dangerous. On the surface, I completely agree. Our lives may seem random, our adventures reckless. But to exist (and persist to play another day), we depend on accurate predictions and measurements, numbers and data fields, calculations and expert opinions and assessments. When a misstep could mean the difference between life and death, we take our steps (however fun they might be) seriously. Here, our lives depend on choosing the right terrain, the right action, the right route, the right amount of risk. And thus, we adore and lean heavily on certainties.

You don’t climb mountains without a team; you don’t climb mountains without being fit; you don’t climb mountains without being prepared; you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And, you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional

Mark Udall

Faith, in the face of this certainty, can appear to be a funny and seemingly out-of-place condition. Many of the wilderness babes I have met over the years have openly denounced and even been hostile to the notion of a big man upstairs, of mystical saints and risen Lords.

However, to say that faith is useless in nature would be to deny the inherit mystery and majesty of wilderness. There is simply something about the mountains.

The mountains are calling and I must go

John Muir

In scripture, mountains are frequently referenced and utilized as both a literal and figurative metaphor for the unknown mysteries of the universe. Their power and brilliance, their capacity for awe and violence, their seemingly endless majesty is a bridge between the human and the divine. Servants of that divine power found themselves drawn to the mountains again, and again, climbing through desolate and beautiful wildernesses (within and without themselves), called by something they could not touch, see, feel, or hear into a land that they could not imagine nor understand. In the face of fear and uncertainty, they climbed. They rose. They soared. And in the process, they discovered something profound.

And we still follow in their footsteps.

For behold the LORD is coming forth from His place He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth

Micah 1:3-4

Mountains also have a special place within our culture – from religion to literature (and everything in between), from Abraham to Christ, from Greek mythology to Zen Buddhism, from prophets like Mohammad to Beatnik Poets like Gary Snyder, mountains are both a literal and figurative symbol of something beyond us. Mountains are elevated, literally – separated geographically from the rest of the world, distinguished from the world of man (and thus from the sins of man) – a physical representation of freedom, power, and enlightenment as well as the embodiment of the wilderness and the unknowable mysteries of life.

It is a place where we are stripped down to our barest, our most raw and exposed. And we often attempt to navigate that exposure, to guard against the dangers of the mountain, with plans, training, gear, and science (all of which are necessary survival tools). We criticize and ridicule those who wander into the mountains unprepared; we guard against the silliness of superstition and faith…

The Best Laid Plans…

…And generally, I agree. The tools of our trade (equal parts gear and knowledge) are critical to successful adventures and pursuits.

However, while I avow my commitment to science and planning, I admit that I do carry a good luck charm in my back pack (a Sedona red rock cut into the shape of a heart given to me by a kind hippie dressed in nothing but a speedo and a large turquoise necklace). I never assumed, however, that my happy rock did more than add some extra grams to my pack. I wasn’t a fool. I know that no amount of luck prayers or hippie speedos could guard against the weight of a poor calculation. It is what I love about the mountains. In an urban world of endless gray areas and “maybes,” the mountains offer violent and concrete certainty. If you make a mistake, you die. It is black and white; my destiny and my future are in my own hands.

Until it isn’t.

There is something about the mountains…and that mysterious something has teeth.

Nature is both predictable and completely unpredictable. There is always the known – then the unknown, that mystery. One can do seemingly everything right, make every right decision, have all the right gear and training…and still tragedy can strike.

This group did everything right and the only thing they could have done differently was to not go there in the first place.
In regards to my close escapes, I also did almost everything right. Then, things went wrong.
In retrospect, I could analyze and deconstruct every choice I made (not putting my foot there, perhaps not hitting that jump, turning just a few seconds before hand, taking ski conditioning more seriously…), but in all reality, the only way to know for certain was to not be there in the first place.
I was in control of my actions, my choices, my responses. But I was not in control of the mountain.

In the mountains, we are face to face with our power and our powerlessness. Connected with the divine and infinite, we become aware of our mortality. As we embrace our ability to control our own actions and lives, our agency, we simultaneously must embrace our inability to control the world around us.
It is why, often, in our moments of joy and despair, we find ourselves reaching out towards something unknowable and impossible. In the hard, concrete world of granite and physics, we discover mystery. And it is this mystery that brings me back to faith, to my Sedona rock and prayers, time and time again.

Understanding Grace and Faith: a Mountain Perspective

And this brings me back to my original argument: faith is essential to a modern mountain life. Note: I am not saying that religion is essential or necessary (while grace and faith are largely attributed to religious ideals and practices, they are not unique to them).

Grace, actually, has two definitions. On one hand, it refers to the Christian notion of the divine spirit, the essence of God and his mystery as experienced by man. On the other, it refers to movement marked by purpose, elegance.

As a mountain girl, I found peace and continuity in the unity of these two definitions. Through our calculated movements within these desperately beautiful and raw spaces, truly alive and unified in mind, body, and spirit, we discover the divine within ourselves and our world – the divine being that which is beyond us, some measure of goodness realized through utter simplicity, action, and trust.

Faith, then, refers to this trust. It is the ability to visualize an outcome, a future that cannot be known, and to then trust, with absolute certainty in the realization of this possibility. It is hope – to the next level.

Faith and grace, however, are fundamentally useless if not lived. We must live as thought that hope, that future, that possibility is certain. And seek grace by living in that faith. And in this sense, our mountainous pursuits, depend upon faith and grace just as much as we do our scientific calculations.

We must use the powers of science to plan our ascents and adventures; we must depend upon our knowledge and skill to walk the path; we must utilize our gear appropriately and effectively.

But we must TRUST in each other. We must move with grace through the unknowns and the mysteries of the wilderness. We must navigate both the terrain as well as our own souls. We must move graciously, trusting to hope and in the certainty of a summit that is not certain.

The mountain life, in its harsh reality, breeds confidence and humility simultaneously. It rewards both caution and action. It demands focus and skill. In the mountains we MUST assume total control over ourselves, our emotions, and our actions. We are entirely within the present – mind, body, and spirit are unified towards a single task and the forward movement required to realize that goal.

It is exhilarating – the essence of being truly alive.

But it also means embracing our limits, recognizing that we are NOT in control, and that to realize the summits within our life and beyond, we must move with grace and embrace faith – faith in oneself, in one’s partners, in one’s training, in one’s calculations, and faith in that great unknown, in hope and grace, in the mysterious powers of the universe.