Category Archives: Growth

A New Sport

If 2021 was the year of bouldering, 2022 was the year of cycling, then 2023 is the year of skiing! Happy to report that after 3 months of practice, I can now ski comfortably down blue runs and even make it down OK a couple of black runs in a ski resort!

My journey to learn skiing went back to my time in Minnesota in 2014, when I first took a half day lesson to learn. Growing up in a city in China where it doesn’t snow much in winter and no mountains nearby, I’ve never learned how to ski. When I was in undergraduate in Minnesota, I considered learning skiing, but I was too concerned with any risk of injury that can impact school and job search, did not have a car to travel to a resort, or know of friends who were interested in skiing. I did not take this lesson until my last winter in Minnesota, when I was already considering moving to Houston for a new career opportunity. I thought, ‘I might as well take advantage of the snow here, since who knows when I will ever live in a city with access to ski resort.’ For that day, I remember practicing ‘pizza’ and ‘french fry’ down the bunny hill the whole morning and afternoon. Then my friend asked if I was interested in trying a chair lift. I successfully made it out of the chair lift, but got chickened out as soon as I started downhill and resorted to boot down the hill to an exit where my friend could drive to pick me up.

The second time I learned skiing was at a resort in Michigan, four years after my first ski lesson lesson in Minnesota. I was getting my graduate degree at the time and over winter break, my friends and I spent a couple of days in a resort in Michigan. Similarly, I took a half day lesson and practiced on the bunny hill first. Luckily this time I was able to make it down in one piece on a green run the end of first day. The same winter, I skied with grad school friends at the annual winter party in a resort and even accidentally went down a blue run.

Even though I did not know whether I would ever live in a city with easy access to ski resort since that first lesson in 2014, life presented the opportunity when I moved to Seattle in 2019. Little did I know that I would fall so head over heels for living in Washington. I know I would enjoy the outdoor activities, but when I first moved here, I had no idea that I would love it THAT much. 2019 and 2020 were the years that I became serious with hiking and backpacking. I started trail running in 2021 and loved how efficient I could travel in the backcountry, compared to hiking. It was also the year that I started following local mountaineers on Instagram and learned about backcountry skiing. After seeing their backcountry skiing trips, I see skinning uphill and skiing down the perfect combination for my needs to explore the outdoors while traveling efficiently downhill. As a result, a seed for backcountry skiing was planted. Unfortunately, my ankle injury at the start of 2021-2022 winter put my skiing plan on hold for a year. Instead, I picked up cycling as rehab and have been keeping up with cycling since then.

Fast forward to 2022-2023 winter, I signed up for a weekly Wednesday night lessons for six weeks at Summit at Snoqualmie. Despite a rocky start on lesson 1 (those skills from MN and MI never stuck with me), I was able to ski down a blue run comfortably by lesson 6! The lessons and many practice runs in Summit at Snoqualmie eventually led me to try out backcountry skiing for the first time a couple of weekends ago at Source Lake in Alpental backcountry! Despite a couple of falls on the uphill (had trouble when it was steep and powdery), I was relatively comfortable going up, due to my endurance and stamina from running and cycling. Skiing downhill on backcountry powder was very challenging. I fell faceplanted almost at every turn and had trouble skiing the narrow exit track due to my limited ability to control my skis. Even with these challenges, I loved the experience and think this first trip would be a precious memory I look back fondly upon.

The following are a few reflections from this ski season:

  1. Stoke is important – even though skiing is better learned as a kid, I know a lot of people who get into this sports as an adult and succeed. As long as you are excited about it and know why you get into it in the first place, you will have motivation to keep practicing to get better.
  2. Having friends to ski with makes learning much easier! Bonus is friends with similar skill levels. Being in the class for 6 weeks and learning with a group activates the competitive energy in me. I usually practiced outside class before the weekly session so that I could keep up with the class. I was also able to pick up a few pointers from friends who are more skilled! One friend even graciously allowed me to borrow her backcountry setup to try out!
  3. Fortunate that I have the means and support to go skiing – Skiing in both resorts and in the backcountry is expensive! Lift tickets, skiing gears (resort and backcountry), avalanche class and avalanche equipment for backcountry, and gas/car to go to the destination are all things not everyone can afford. In addition, as you look at the faces on the slopes, they are not very diverse (cycling is similar). This is probably due to economic and social network reasons. I hope that I can take more friends to try out skiing in the future if they are just missing mentorship and support network.  
  4. It is worth celebrating there was no injury, which was my biggest concern going into this season. With my climbing injury on the ankle and seeing horror stories of others breaking their ACLs/MCLs in skiing, I was nervous going into this season. My philosophy is that if the conditions are bad (icy trail, tired legs, low excitement, etc), I would just not go to the mountain. With low risk tolerance, I also did not ski too fast.

In the end, here are two blogs that I read frequently that dedicate a post on backcountry skiing. They provide both male and female perspectives. They also provide really good trip reports on backcountry skiing that give me lots of inspiration for future adventures!

As my first skiing season in Washington is coming to end, I am super proud to say that I finally made good on my goal to venture into backcountry skiing! I hope with more practice next season I can eventually ski down a volcano next spring in 2024, such as Mt St Helens and Mt Adams!

When Life Gives You Lemon…

My 2021 did not end on a high note.

The evening before Xmas Eve, I went bouldering with friends in a gym. I was working on my first yellow boulder problem half way through, when a thought crossed my mind ‘I have not been on the wall for almost a month, do I remember how to fall properly?’. I pushed that thought aside and continued with a couple of moves when I suddenly lost my footing. Rather than lay back to fall on the pad, I vertically slipped off the wall from 6 feet high and landed on my right foot first. I immediately felt some pain and saw my ankle bone dislocated. Sitting up on the pad, I gently touched my ankle bone out of curiosity and it slid back to its place. My friends came to my side and took me to urgent care right away. At urgent care, my ankle swelled up much more and I felt more pain. I got an Xray and the doctor said no fracture and sent me home with an aircast to wear for two weeks.

night of the fall, at urgent care

The following two weeks were the hardest during recovery as it was challenging to go up stairs and moved around the house in general. Fortunately, I had friends who dropped off groceries, picked up prescription, and visited me to have meals with me over the holidays. It happened to be on the snowiest days in the Seattle area. As I looked out the windows, I could see kids playing in the park and how I wished I could go outside for snowshoeing.

Once I was in good enough shape to walk around using my injured foot as well (rather than skipping in my left leg) and the swelling greatly reduced, I started going to PT. I could not do a proper squat because it was really tight around my ankle. It was not easy to accept the new reality that I will not be able to run or hike for a while until I get my full range of motion back in my right ankle. Since I was so active pre-injury, I felt a big part of my identity was lost. I was at a loss about how to fill up my spare time, now that I am not running, hiking, or bouldering. My PT recommended getting a bike to stay fit and use the pedaling motion to increase the blood flow around the ankle to help reduce swelling. Seeing one success story of a local trail runner who had ankle surgery and picked up biking to actively recover, I immediately invested in a road bike.

Boy, I was hooked! The high school commuter Sijie was back! I was once given the compliment that I was unfazed by busy traffic on highway 202 and I credited that to all the years of whizzing through bikes rushing to classes in high school in China. I felt nostalgic just thinking about those days and how the skills developed then became helpful now. I was steadily building on mileage each week, exploring Lake Sammamish loop, Sammamish River Trail to Burke Gilman Trail, and eventually linking them together to do Lake Washington Northern Loop. I not only loved exploring the neighborhood on a bike, which is more efficient than running and still provides me great views of the mountains, but also cherished the company I had. I caught up with friends from running club while biking, visited friends in Seattle, and biked to restaurants and ice cream shops. With my cycling friends, we dreamt up plans to bike on sunrise road in Mt Rainier National Park, to see Washington Pass from Highway 20 before the road opens for cars, and to take a ferry to all the islands and Olympic peninsula. I was feeling hopeful and excited for the summer – biking brought me so much already – I stayed fit, hang out with friends in a different setting, reconnected with a college classmate who was also into biking, and met a coworker who I would never connect with if not for biking! I would be just as happy if I will not be able to run or hike much this summer, because I found a new love!

my favorite mountains!
biking with a friend by Lake Washington

Even though my range of motion is improving, I found it odd that my ankle is still a bit swollen after almost three months. I decided to see a podiatrist and get another X-ray. It was then that I was told that I had a fracture which was not detected in the first one and that I needed to cut back my physical activities significantly – cannot swim or bike much until the checkup in two weeks. At first I panicked again – just wondering what I should do to fill up my time again… Good thing is that my recovery from being at a loss at what I should do with my spare time is much faster this time – I can spend more time reading (since my physical activities were eating into my reading time), I can bake and cook more, I can decorate my new place with paintings and photos, I have time to update my blog, I can learn to be more financially smart, I can host dinner parties with friends and catch up, I can help my friends with their garden projects, etc… Since the initial doctor visit, I did more meal prep than before, baked a matcha cheesecake, got a group together for escape room, and repotted my some of my houseplants before they go through the growth spurts in summer. Fingers crossed that I can heal quickly!

time to repot this moonshine snakeplant
first time baking a cake – matcha basque cheesecake

the Journey of Self – Know the Why

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 6 of the series.

After living in Washington for a year, I started hiking more frequently in 2020 summer to appreciate the beautiful state that I live in. To get inspired and find trails, I joined a couple of hiking and mountaineering groups on Facebook. Members of these communities usually posted pictures of their trips and wrote trip reports. For a long time, the postings made me feel so unaccomplished and anxious about what I have done. Others are doing much more impressive things – scrambling on exposed terrain, summiting all the volcanoes in Washington, backcountry skiing, roped climbing, running on trails with high vertical gains, etc., while I am yet to learn the skills to do any of them. My competitiveness got the best of me and I felt frustrated that I couldn’t win. There is an app in the community to register which peaks you have bagged and I developed an unhealthy obsession that I will only go on hikes where there were peaks to conquer. I will not choose lake hikes as a result, no matter how pretty the trails are, because lakes are not considered peaks in the app. I wanted to catch up so badly that being outside is no longer fun. It was all about registering my name under the peaks.

Luckily, going on a backpacking trip with a couple of friends this summer at the alpine lakes reminded me to enjoy the process and take it all in along the journey. In the past, I was usually in a rush – starting from trailhead as early as 7 a.m., taking shorter breaks, having a quick snack at summit, and hurrying back to the car. This time, my friends and I deliberately wanted to do a chill trip and even shortened the stay to 1 night only so that we were not that far from civilization. We took a leisure pace of starting after lunch on the first day, shot plenty of pictures at all the lakes on this trail, watched sunset and looked for shooting stars at night. We even brought swim suits along, but ran out of time. At first I was not used to this leisure pace, always trudging ahead then stopping to wait for my friend to catch up. Then I realized I missed out on the opportunity to catch up with my friends about their work-from-home life, creative endeavors, and recent adventures, so I slowed down and ‘ooh and aah’ together with them whenever we had a beautiful view. ShuMui, who were on this trip with me, wrote a remarkable trip report with pictures taken from the DSLR that she hauled up the trail. After this trip, my heart was so full that I cared a lot less about bagging peaks now and was reminded again why I enjoyed the outdoors.

In addition, I remembered that I have only been in Washington for a little more than two years. I did not learn climb and ski before. I am an average runner and need to put in the work to run faster and get used to the verticals. Despite the two years, my outdoor skills and capabilities have grown significantly, which is worth celebrating! I also realized that everyone has different goals in life. I should not have mistaken others’ goals as mine and gone after them, because we all are making a deliberate choice of what to focus on. Just because others’ goals are visible on social media, it does not mean that I should go after the same ones. The likes and validation received from social media do not mean anything, if I am not content from within. I should develop clarity on what my own plans are and stay focused on them, so that I am not easily distracted by what others have been pursuing.

As a result, I started thinking a lot about the whys behind all the things I do. Why do I hike and backpack? Why do I run? Why do I want to try trail running? Why do I pick up bouldering? Why do I write? Why do I mentor? Why am I working as a product manager? Once I rehash out the whys, I am happier and more satisfied with where I am. It is like having an internal compass, showing me the way, rather than mistaking other directions as my way just because they are big and shiny. I love having this sense of direction. I am no longer comparing myself to others, because I know we all have different goals to work towards. It is a good life as long as I am doing what fulfills me.

Have you thought about your whys?

Bonus: speaking of being on trails, I love this article from guidebook author Craig Romano on sharing what we love about the wilderness with our loved ones. Give it a read! Love this quote!

“The only thing that can be better than sitting on a wild deserted beach, atop a commanding hilltop, or by a sparkling alpine lake is to be there in the company of the people I care for most. All of those beautiful natural landscapes are too life enhancing to be loved alone.”


the Journey of Self – Finding My People

I am dedicating year of 2021 to a year of self-journey, a year of looking inward to understand myself better and to grow. This is part 5 of the series.

Washington is the fourth state I lived in in the US, not counting my short summer stint in California. For someone who has moved around with no close family in the US, my least favorite part about moving is having to give up all the friends in that city and to go through the process of finding a community again. On a positive note, I am lucky to have some close friends living all over the country who I stay in touch with and have paid me quite a few visits already. As I reflect on my experience of moving, I realize that I can be good at making new friends, maybe due to the fact that all my family lives abroad, so my friends become my tribe.

After living in Washington for two years, 60% of the time was during the time of a global pandemic, I am happy to report that I have slowly found a group of likeminded people, the connection with whom I am grateful for. Coming to Seattle with a large number of business school classmates definitely made my first year easier, especially when a few of my good friends from business school moved here too. In my second year, I put more effort in meeting new people outside my usual circle and joined a running club! I am not sure why the running club idea did not occur to me earlier, since this was the same thing I did when I moved to Houston! I really enjoy going to weekly runs with my club and being able to explore some new trails on the Eastside and some old gems on which I can now run at a faster pace. Thanks to motivation from the club, I’ve pulled off the longest distance I’ve ever run in a month and today I ran close to 12 miles and still had a bit left in my tank. Running more combined with hiking has definitely made me feel my body is at its prime right now.

1.5X to my previous monthly max!

Speaking of hiking, I have also found more friends to explore trails with. We are able to push each other, me being pushed more often than they are (:P) to take on the trail less traveled. Some great fun were had on the winter trail of chain lakes loop, Kachess Beacon, and wright mountain traverse. Last year, I saw hiking more as a way to stay fit, but ended up not enjoying the process as much because I was too focused on going at a speed that my physical fitness could not sustain and on the goal of bagging peaks. This year, my fitness level improved significantly and the hikes become more a way to catch up with friends while sharing the gorgeous views of nature. As I lower my monthly hiking frequency, I am more and more looking forward to each hike. I am really excited to go on two backpacking trips the end of the month with Washington friends and out-of-town visitors!

Chain lakes adventure featuring walking on the frozen lake in the background and snowshoeing up a hill!

Lastly, I am also lucky to have friends who can show me the ropes of bouldering (but no literal ropes involved)! Because I have fear of heights that might stop me from taking on more scrambling challenges in the mountains, I’ve started indoor bouldering and it is a fun physical and mental challenge. Since then, I have taken the skill and experience to outdoor trails and I can say that I am becoming more comfortable with navigating large boulders!

All in all, I am just grateful for all the old and new connections I am able to make while living in Washington. These are the people who have inspired me to take on more and taught me new skills and experiences that I will always treasure. Cheers to Year 3 in Washington and finding more of my people!