Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 in photos

One of my favorite blogs often does a 'year in photos', and I thought I would follow suit by picking one photo from every month of 2017. Although perusing photos from the year was enjoyable, it was a surprisingly difficult task. Obviously it was hard to pick the 'best' photo - should it be the highest quality photo, or the most meaningful? - but I was also surprised to see how my year had accordioned. Some months seemed to have disappeared, leaving behind relatively few pictures to choose from, whereas others have so many photos I could easily have included 5.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my 2017 in one photo a month!

January

Location: Furano, Hokkaido, Japan
Photographer: Me


January was Japanuary this year, and this was any easy pick. Audun broke his wrist punching a tree on our first day skiing, and after two rest days, resumed battle with the trees with one arm. If it slowed him down at all, I didn't notice.

February

Location: Skeikampen, Norway
Photographer: Me


After traveling to Japan for skiing and then spending another two weeks in Asia for work, the remainder of February was a slow month. One memorable weekend was spent cross-country skiing at Skeipkampen (and relaxing watching world cup cross-country skiing) with our friends Vibeke and David. We got in one long ski tour in beautiful weather, which built my confidence to eventually sign up for the Birkebeiner. The picture is of Vibeke enjoying perfect ski tracks, sun and a gorgeous view.

March

Location: Lillehammer, Norway
Photographer: Sportograf for Birkebeiner



The Birkebeiner is kind of the holy grail of cross-country ski races, and it's been on my bucket list for a while. This year, noticing that the forecast for the weekend was stunning, I decided to sign up only two days before the event. This picture shows me in the final lap to the finish, overjoyed and tired after a beautiful day skiing over the mountain. Full race report here.

April

Location: Slogen, Sunnmøre, Norway
Photographer: Audun


Hands down the most memorable ski day in 2017 was on Slogen. After skiing down the main face of the mountain, I saw Ken Roger splitting his split board to climb up an untouched knoll. Spurred on by the beauty of the day, I convinced Ingeborg to join me in climbing a little extra to get in a few turns. Fortuitously, Audun was in position to photograph us as we tore down the face. It was just as fun as it looks!

May

Location: Norddal, Sunnmøre, Norway
Photographer: Audun


In May, Audun and I travelled to Norddal on the west coast for a rollercoaster of events. Firstly, Audun's grandmother passed away on May 17, and we went to attend the funeral. She was a wonderful, strong woman with an incredibly positive outlook on life, and I am glad to have known her. Secondly, we were attended Audun's cousin's confirmation, a coming-of-age celebration that merits a full family reunion in Norwegian culture. In between the whirlwind of happy and sad events, Audun and I got out for a run above the family farm. I look just as contemplative as I felt in this photo, running to digest all of the goings on and experiences. This was a quiet moment in all the rush.

June

Location: Yangmingshan National Park, Taipei, Taiwan
Photographer: Me


In June I travelled to China, Taiwan and Japan for work again, and spent the weekend in Taipei. I'm pretty comfortable getting around on my own in Taipei now, and so I planned a rather ambitious run in Yangmingshan National Park on the outskirts of the city. It was murderously hot, and the mountains were steep and bedecked with endless stone stairs. Here's a selfie I took on the way up Mt Datun, trying to capture just how steep it was.

July

Location: Sogndal, Norway
Photographer: A bystander (on my phone)



Completing Jotunheimen Rundt means more and more to me as time goes on. I struggled throughout the night, and seriously contemplated quitting. I simply didn't know if I would ever feel better. But there was a turning point, and I emerged from the depths of terrible night to a new and beautiful dawn. Completing such a long race showed me that I am stronger than my fatigue, and opens seemingly endless possibilities I hope to embrace in 2018. This photo shows our team, capturing the fatigue and the elation of spending 19 1/2 hours together on bicycles. We trained together, encouraged each other through the race, and somehow made it through to the finish.

August

Location: Herdalssetra, Sunnmøre, Norway
Photographer: Annavitte Rand



I would be remiss if I didn't mention my wedding! Audun and I tied the knot near his ancestral home in Norddal, on a grey, drizzling, cold August day. Despite challenging weather, we held an outdoor ceremony in a tent at Herdalssetra. I wouldn't have made it through the day without the beautiful wool sweater that my sister (and maid of honor) Zoe knitted to go with my wedding dress. The first picture is at Herdal lake near Audun's family cabin, while the second shows a ski pole salute from our friends and family as we exit the tent as newly weds.

September

Location: Innerdalen, Norway
Photographer: Me


In September I went on a spontaneous climbing trip that I had no business being on. I took this picture of Hilde early on in our climb of the northwest ridge of Innerdalstårnet. I think I succeeded in capturing both the exposure and the beauty of being up on the wall.

October

Location: Oslo, Norway
Photographer: Audun


This picture is from the last race in an uphill series I ran throughout the summer. I'm in red (both t-shirt and face), gasping for breath with no energy to smile for the camera, still less than halfway through the 30 minute competition.

November

November was kind of a dead month. I mostly recovered from several nasty colds, and cooked and baked a lot. I didn't find any pictures I really loved from November, so I put in an extra wedding picture (see August) instead.

December

Location: Blefjell, Norway
Photographer: Audun


Audun and I spent an early December weekend in skiing in Blefjell. We battled strong winds for most of the weekend. This photo captures swirls of snow animated by the wind at my feet, a beautiful illustration of the element we fought.

Here's to a memorable 2018!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Blefjell

Early season skiing is always a bit of a gamble. You can peruse weather forecast and snow maps for as long as you like, but at some point you have to go out there and check it out for yourself.

So it was that Audun and I headed to Blefjell, 2 hours outside of Oslo, for the first weekend of December. We were cautiously optimistic, but decided not to have too ambitious a goal for the day in case the conditions were adverse.


It was a grey morning, with animated cloud cover and the sun glowing like an ember on the horizon. We followed the vague imprint of a summer trail through the forest, then turned uphill towards the mountains. Exposed clumps of blueberry and heather peaked out of the marginal snow cover.

We had gambled, and the snow was not the best, but at least it was a beautiful day in a beautiful place.

Just barely enough snow!
Gradually, the wind picked up and it began to snow in big, sticky clumps. I bundled into my hood and ski goggles, starting to feel like a polar explorer in this tiny wilderness not really all that far from civilization.

The weather worsens.
The second half of our ski to Sigridsbu was downright nasty. We could barely hear each other over the wind, and the blowing snow stung my face. I was glad we didn't have to ski too far to get to the safety of the cabin.

Audun heads into the vortex.
We arrived at the hut around lunchtime, and stoked the fire and snacked for a while. I grew restless, and discovering that the wind had calmed a bit, suggested a foray to a nearby peak.

With sunset drawing close, the light seemed to get more dramatic. Still, it was nothing like what we saw when the moon came out a later in the evening...


Unbeknownst to us, a supermoon rose and lit up the landscape, almost brighter than the weak December sun. After peaking out the cabin window, I insisted we walk around to check it out. The landscape was illuminated in black and white, and if it weren't for the persistent wind I would have requested on a longer foray. As it was there was something magical about being out under that moon.

The moon over Blefjell. The picture doesn't quite capture it - some things you have to experience for yourself!

The next day dawned sunny but windy. Despite the wind, we decided to climb Store Ble, the largest peak in the area, and make a larger half circle back to the car.

Making tracks into the wind.
The wind was persistent and strong, and we were bundled into our hoods nearly all day. We only afforded a short stop on top of Store Ble, the windiest point in the area, before continuing on.

It looks like a beautiful sunny day, but the photo doesn't do the wind justice.

We followed some old ski tracks through the other desolate mountains. The wind had inverted them in places. The landscape around us was marred with sastrugi, like a frozen ocean desperately trying to lick some distance shore.

Inverted ski tracks below Store Ble

After a short lunch break, my hands froze, and I had to put on my big mittens. It seemed strange to be bundled up on such a beautiful day, but the wind sucked all the warmth out of us.

Wind swirls around my feet.
We descended from the mountain to a tree-covered plain that we hoped would afford easy skiing back to the car. We were wrong. We spent the afternoon bush-whacking through tightly-grown birch and spruce forest, while sinking in to sugary snow that lay under a nice frozen crust. I grew so frustrated that I declared this the worst ski adventure ever. I have since changed my mind.


Audun leads the way through the Forest of Fun. Not.

Strava here, here and here.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The anticlimax

It was all going so well that something had to go wrong.

Early October sun on a long run in the forest
After Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, I gave myself time to recover and then busily set about preparing for the final running goal of the season. With the six weeks I had available, I wanted to see how fast I could run at the 10K. Specifically, Hytteplanmila (billed as Norway's fastest 10K) was on October 21.

The training went unbelievably well. My three day sojourn in the Alpes seemed to have kicked me up to a new fitness level, and I was hitting (for me) unheard splits in all of my interval sessions. Although publicly my goal was just to beat my 10K PR (42:58) with as much as possible, privately I was starting to wonder just how close to the 40 minute mark I could get.

Then, on the Wednesday before the race, I woke up with a sore throat. That's OK, I told myself, It should clear up quickly, you never get sick. I went for a short run, and felt awful and sluggish.

The next day I barely left the couch, lying in a delirium of the worst sore throat I've ever had, so sore that it propagated up into my ear and head and made me dizzy every time I stood. Looking back, I don't think I have been this sick since 2012. I began to realize I was not going to being running any 10Ks on Saturday, and frankly, I was deeply disappointed. The ultimate anticlimax: being in great shape, and not begin able to use it.

A week later, I'm still not quite myself. I'm starting to feel like my off-season has kick-started itself. Just like last year, I don't seem to have a choice in the matter. I'm done, on temporary hiatus until I start to feel that indescribable itch to run again.

In the mean time, let's eat apple cinnamon rolls.


Has sickness every gotten in the way of a big goal for you? What other tasty treats should I bake?

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Climbing the tower

There are some offers you can't refuse. As a wannabe-mountaineer, when Vibeke and Hilde, two much stronger climbing friends, call and ask you if you want to climb the northwest ridge of Innerdalstårnet, you say yes.

Innerdalstårnet in morning glory
Even if they want to go midweek so you work all weekend and then spend seven hours each way driving to get to the mountain.

Even though you literally have to dust off your climbing helmet as you pack your gear.

Even after you Google the route they want to climb and find the phrase 'most exposed route in Innerdalen'.

The weather forecast is beautiful, they say, it will be great. Bring your thickest down jacket, in trad climbing we stand around a lot.

I regretted my spontaneously descision the night before the climb as I tossed and turned in my creaky hut bed. Visions of tumbling to my death from a steep rock wall danced through my head. The alarm finally put me out of my misery, and we tumbled out of the hut in darkness for a good old alpine start. Before we could do any rock climbing, we had a three hour hike to the wall.

Vibeke and I enjoy a 5 am breakfast. Photo: Hilde
The trail carried us through an enchanted forest of birches resplendent with bright yellow leaves, almost golden in the headlamp beam. And slowly, magically, the sun rose, illuminating the landscape with a rosy glow, and I began to remember why I do these things.

Sunrise over Snøfjellet

Below Innerdalstårnet at first light. Photo: Hilde
We followed the well-worn path that veered off from the Giklingdalen valley towards the main route up Innerdaltsårnet. The main route up Innerdalstårnet is a steep scramble, passable for anyone without serious fear of heights. We planned to climb a route on the exact opposite side of the tower, and eventually followed a fainter trace towards the little tower below the looming cone of Innerdalstårnet.

Hilde and Vibeke hiking to the base of the climb. The main route goes to the large notch to their left, while we were headed for the smaller notch between the two cones in the far left of the picture.
Although I broke a sweat as we ascended the steep slope, the air temperature remained cold. We were and would remain on the shadow side of the mountain, but at least that meant we could watch a beautiful sunrise on the other side of the valley.

A panorama of the Trolla massif on the opposite side of the valley from Innerdalstårnet. (Click to enlarge)
The terrain grew steeper and steeper until we were full-on scrambling. Hilde said that she thought that moving through steep terrain like this, unroped, was worse than the actual climbing. I was in my element though, looking for the best path up through the ledges that lead to Litletårnet (the little tower).

At the based of the scramble to Litletårnet.

Yeah, I guess it was kind of exposed!
I got nervous again when we finally got to the notch at the base of the wall we were going to climb. To make matters worse, so did my partners.

"It's so steep!" exclaimed Hilde, craning her neck to look at the endless expansing of rock above us.

Despite obvious misgivings, we were here to climb up and up we would go. Vibeke racked up to climb the first pitch, and I took the opportunity to snack and put on warming clothes.

Hilde and Vibeke rack up at the base of the climb.
As Hilde belayed Vibeke on the first pitch, I grew colder and colder. The wind was whistling through the notch we were standing and seemed to penetrate even my thick down jacket.

As far as I could see the first pitch looked doable and I was excited when Vibeke finally shouted down that we could head up.

Vibeke leads the first pitch. You can see the whole route above her.
Halfway through the pitch I started to fumble around, and was unable to figure out how to proceed. Luckily Hilde was behind me, climbing at the same time on the second of the two ropes Vibeke had put up. With a few encouraging words on where to place my feet, I made it up the first pitch. 

It was less windy on the wall, and Vibeke and I sat on a wide ledge with a beautiful view as Hilde lead the next, more difficult pitch. Hilde seemed to have trouble getting around an overhanging block, cursing and muttering to herself as she climbed. I was a little worried, but reasoned that with the rope above me I would make it up somehow.

I made it around the overhanging block, and followed what look like the easiest route up the pitch, a little ways away from Hilde's line. All of the sudden, the climbing wasn't so easy, and I looked up to see my rope snagged on a rock far away. If I fell now, I would pendulum away from where I wanted to go and it would be difficult to proceed. I communicated this to Vibeke, and we decided she would climb up and unsnag my rope before I proceeded. 

So I stood there, on a ledge barely large enough to hang my toes on. Although I tried to remain calm, I felt helpless and the long drop to the valley floor below seemed to be growing. I began to shake involuntarily. I turn my head towards the rock wall and placed my hands on it, feeling its solidness, reminding myself that everything would be OK. Then I began to plan my next sequence of moves, rehearsing them in my mind.

Finally Vibeke unsnagged my rope and I could move again.

"1-2-3!" I shouted at the tower, and pulled myself up on the rock. Forward progress was so much better than standing still. I climbed the last part of the pitch with a vengeance. Two down, three to go. How we I be able to make it?

Hilde sets out on the steep third pitch.
The next anchor only had a tiny ledge, and I stood so that Vibeke could sit as she belayed. I shifted from one foot to the other constantly, trying to alleviate the pain in my toes from the time spent in my tight climbing shoes. I was still shivering, and I could only stop if I actively relaxed.

The next pitch was as difficult as the previous, but I felt like I was able to approach it like a puzzle, and solving the sequence of moves. I was starting to get tired though, and had to take a short rest. Luckily the final two pitches would be easier.

Near the top of the third pitch. "Can you hang on there while I take your picture?" said Hilde. "No!" I said. But I did.
The belay area for the fourth pitch was so tiny neither I or Vibeke could take off our backpacks. This pitch was easier though, and Hilde completed it more quickly than the previous two. 

As the wall grew less steep, my shivering finally started to subside and I began to believe that we would reach the top.

Vibeke takes a selfie of me belaying Hilde on the fourth pitch.
Vibeke lead the final pitch up a series of mossy ledges. Hilde and I followed to find her belaying us in the sun on a anchor attached to the enormous summit cairn.

Summit anchor! Photo: Hilde

Group photo on the top!

We descended the main route, which was spicy enough for a non-climbing route - I wouldn't want to do this if it was wet!


Hilde descending.
On the hike down we finally got to spend some time in the sun, although the day was drawing to a close and the sun eventually disappeared behind the mountains.

Vibeke soaking in the last rays of sun.
I didn't realized how tired I was until I literally stepped off the trail and fell on my face. I was fine, but ate a Snickers and very carefully placed my feet for the rest of the hike out.

The next day was just as beautiful as the first, and we got in a short hike up to Bjøråskardet pass before heading out for the long drive home. 

Vibeke on the climb to Bjøråskardet, with Skarsfjellet in the background.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A season of uphill racing

Fall light at Trollvann. Photo: Audun


Uphill races really do highlight the pointlessness of recreation running. We pay money to put ourselves through a large amount of pain, with little to no reward. Still, I find uphill racing ineffably beautiful. All of the complexities of life are stripped to a singular goal of reaching the top, and real obstacles like rocks, roots and fallen trees block your way. All you can do is push as hard as your searing muscles and maxed-out lungs will allow. I achieve a zen-like flow state of being entirely in the moment, as the moment entirely consumes me.

On the first Tuesday of every month from June to October, an assorted group of runners meets at varied locations on the outskirts of Oslo to run up a different hills. The Maridalen Uphill Races are low key, short (the longest is 5.6K), and provide a lot of pain for very little money. I committed to running the entire series this year. Here's how it went.


Rett til værs (June)

27:38, 5th female

Celebrating on top of Mellomkollen

I wrote a little about Rett til værs here, and last year's event here. I was super happy to set a course PR this year, despite pretty wet conditions. I love that this race ends with a sprint across a bog. You think to yourself, "finally, it's flat!", and then you flail around in the mire at a glacier pace despite your best efforts to spring.

My friend Urd on the home stretch. I convinced her to try uphill racing, she might have regretted leaving the flats behind.

Fagervann opp (July)

17:29, 3rd female

Dueling with Guro, the eventual 2nd place finisher, on the way up to Fagervann. Photo: Audun
I often refer to Fagervann as my favorite hill in Oslo. Fagervann means 'Beautiful Lake', and the race ends at a small lake that definitely deserves that name. Since I often run this hill in training I know the course pretty well - it's good to know that the final few hundred meters are actually downhill for example! I ran my own race, I was pleased to set another course PR and come in 3rd place. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we celebrated with a dip in the lake after the race.

Post-race swim in Fagervann


Sellanrå opp (August)

20:46, 4th female

The view of Øyungen Lake from Sellanrå.
I was glad I had previewed the course, because I knew about the steep, downhill section right in the middle of the course. The downhill may have allowed my heart rate to drop, but climbing over several logs and trying to run along slick, steeply off-camber trail certainly wasn't easy.

By now I recognized some of my closest competitors in the previous races. I was able to latch on to Guro, who had just edged me out in the last two races, and hang on the finish, finishing only 10s behind her.

Gaupekollen opp (September)

23:53, 4th Female

This race was only three days after I completed Ultra Tour Monte Rosa. If you think this sounds like a bad idea, you would be right.

It had rained a lot leading up to the race, and the trails were incredibly wet. While warming up on the course, I realized there was no way I would get out of this with dry feet. So instead of avoid puddles and streams I started to charge right through them, reasoning it was better to get my feet wet right away so I wouldn't hesitate during the race!

Although my legs felt pretty good, mentally I was exhausted and look at my watch constantly as I ran. The trail just seemed to get steeper and steeper and gnarlier and gnarlier. Despite my fatigue I managed a respectable time, although I paid for it in the days afterwards. I couldn't seem to sleep enough, and I was tired and unfocused at work.

Skjennungstua opp (October)

29:41, 8th female

Gasping for air on the way up to Skjennungstua. Photo: Audun

The last race in the series is quite different from the others, since it is on dirt roads rather than trails. I was chatting with Guro, who was my closest competitor in all the races, and was surprised when the race suddenly started. I was way further back in the field than I should have been, and spent the first kilometer passing people.

Gradually I found my place in the field. It was easy to find a steady rhythm on the dirt road, and my breath fell in sync with my footsteps. I felt in control and powerful. I could see Guro and one other woman not far ahead of me.

Here we go again, I thought. I'll probably finish 10 or 15 seconds behind them. Then I started to wonder if I was limiting myself simply by assuming they would beat me. What if I instead assumed that I could pass them? With 1.5K to go, I surged passed and didn't look back, convinced they would catch me. They didn't, and I sailed to the finish in just under 30 min.

After the race, there was a dinner and prize ceremony. I placed 3rd female in the race series and won a gift card at Löpelabbet, a high end running store. So there was a reward after all!

- The Wild Bazilchuk