‘Like Going Outdoors on a Rainy Day:’ The Power of Nature for Moving Grief and Trauma (Denali Strabel, semi-pro mountain runner)

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When life comes at you hard — pain, trauma, injury, loss, grief — the outdoors is there just waiting for you to use it for healing. You just have to go outside.

That’s what Denali Strabel, a semi-professional mountain runner and life-long Alaskan has found as she navigates the wide variety of victories and challenges life has thrown at her. From addiction to the loss of her identical twin sister, Rubye, Denali knows that by keeping the mountains a part of her, she can move through pain.

In this episode Denali gifts us a rare window into what it’s like to actively move through grief after loss while still in the thick of it as she’s daily making the decision to heal and move.

Hear Denali share how the mountains, ocean and running have been key in helping her with this challenge and so many others — and learn how you, too, can lean on heading into nature to get through the hard stuff.

Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:

[3:20] Denali Strabel’s favorite outdoor space

[5:45] Denali’s outdoor story

[8:35] What it’s like to grow up in Seward

[12:31] About Mount Marathon

[16:05] Using nature to recover

[22:25] The importance of reconnecting with the outdoors

[29:53] All about Rubye Blake, Denali’s identical twin sister

[35:44] What it’s like to lose a twin

[44:22] Advice for dealing with grief when you’re in the thick of it

[53:44] Denali’s favorite outdoor memory

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: You know that feeling you get when you spend even a little time outside? No matter how challenging it is to get out there, spending time in nature is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz, and this is another episode of humans outside. Join me as we hear from fascinating bring outdoor minded guests, and use the humans outside three sixty five challenge of spending time outside every day no matter what to push us outside daily. I’ve been a journalist for two decades, and I love asking questions.

Amy Bushatz: But I also love going outside, so why not combine the two? Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

Amy Bushatz: When I’m facing big life stuff, loss outside side of my control, the fallout of my own choices that I now have to deal with, the trauma someone else has placed on me, I head outside. It’s something I’ve learned to do over the course of my outdoor habit. Having the perfect place to deal with that stuff is just one of the gifts of the outdoors.

Amy Bushatz: But on the flip side, when I hurt myself or my preferred sport isn’t available to me, things get harder. I have to figure out a way to shift. If I’m doing things well, I shift into a different type of outdoor therapy. If I can’t run, I get okay with walking, for example. If it’s not warm summer, I try to get okay with cold winter. But no matter what, heading outside is there for me as an option.

Amy Bushatz: Today’s guest, Denali Strabel has used heading outside into the mountains and trails specifically by running, but more recently by cross country skiing as a form of therapy for herself as she’s dealt with big life stuff, including recovery from addiction and an eating disorder, and the death of her identical twin sister, Rubye last year.

Amy Bushatz: Now think of a local celebrity famous in your city or town. They’re probably known in some niche circles outside of it, but they’re not famous famous. Now pretend your small town is the entire state of Alaska, and you get a phenomenon we call Alaska famous. Denali Strabel is a semiprofessional athlete known in the mountain running scene outside of Alaska and is full on Alaska famous as a runner, Queen of or top contender in very tough trail races that fly up and down mountain passes, including the infamous Mount Marathon race in her hometown of Seward, Alaska.

Amy Bushatz: When she’s not running or training, she’s running the gorgeous Mountain Streams Lodge near Hatcher Pass, taking care of her son Stig and adventuring with her husband, Eric, who is Alaska famous in his own right, but we’re not gonna talk about him. She’s also one of the kindest, most genuine people you’ll ever meet and somehow is also my friend.

Amy Bushatz: I’m a person who decidedly does not win things, but when she flies past, I casually brag yeah. We run together.

Amy Bushatz: Today, Denali is gonna talk about what spending time outside means to her, why running on and near mountains is so important, why she loves to do hard things and how doing those hard things has helped her deal with recovery and loss.

Amy Bushatz: Denali, welcome to humans outside, and will you forgive me for telling people you are Alaska famous?

Denali Strabel: Well, you make me blush? And thank you so much for having me on the show. I will forgive you always.

Amy Bushatz: Thank you. Thank you. Okay. So as you know, we start our show with our guests talking about their favorite outdoor space. Like, if we’re hanging out with you outside somewhere that you love, just chilling, having this conversation, where are we with you today?

Denali Strabel: I have to say this is my favorite thing you do. It is such a great icebreaker. I like to listen to where people take us, and it was really hard for me to think about just one spot. And let’s say I’m gonna pick the high point on Lost Lake Trail in Seward, Alaska.

Denali Strabel: The Lost Lake Trail is usually run point to point. Traditionally, you start north at Primrose, and you go south towards Seward. And some people get a little fancy, and they do a long out and back to make it a Lost Lake double.

Denali Strabel: I am one of those people. So this is where I actually fell in love with not only running, but the lifestyle of my outdoorness, if that is a word. So the high point of this trail is a magical spot. It is a point in the trail where I can make a few decisions. I continue on the traditional path and head back to Seward, Or I could go in search of the actual Lost Lake. And then once I get to that lake, I can go off trail, and I can find a secret little glacier and Mount Ascension. And this is really where I found my ultra running background because a lot of times in ultra running, you are going out into the wilderness and you are going on the unbeaten path. And this was just a spot that promoted that lifestyle for me.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Well and I have never been to this secret spot, so I’m stoked that we are having this conversation with you there today. And when you say this place is just unreal, it really is unreal. There’s, Kenai Lake in particular, which you mentioned, is this unbelievable blue color that you look back over your shoulder to it when you’re coming up this trail, and It’s there’s just aren’t even words.

Denali Strabel: If you catch it on a clear day, you believe in God. You believe in the greater forces outside of us. When you’re looking forward and you see Resurrection Bay, you’re thinking, my goodness. There is magic in this world. This Lost Lake Trail, it’s hard for me to race Lost Lake because I catch myself looking around. And wanting to tell my competitors like, woah. Are you seeing this?

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Okay. So you were running. We’re up near Lost Lake. We’re at a secret glacier. I’m very excited about that. Tell us, how did you become someone who likes to go outside?

Denali Strabel: Yeah. well, so I didn’t become an outdoor person.

Denali Strabel: It is something that I have always been. And, sure, my agenda has changed with what my outings mean to me, but I have never separated myself from the outdoors. And I would think that it all stems to my childhood and being fortunate enough to having epic parents. Uh, I I would say they’re some of the most humble people I’ve ever met, uh, but they’re also the type of people who decide after my track meet in Fairbanks, which is almost four hundred miles away, we’re just gonna bike back. Or you

Amy Bushatz: Four hundred miles and some not minor hills, By the way.

Denali Strabel: So and and and they just do it, and they and they get a friend who says, hey I live halfway. I could come make you a barbecue on day three, and it’s all very humbling. So I I grew up with this sense of you know, there’s this thing we can do hard things, but I didn’t and that my normal things were hard things.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah.

Denali Strabel: And Even when I was a sassy little teenager and I wanted nothing to do with my parents, I found that I had a community full of adventurers. Seward is jam packed with some of the most epic people.

Denali Strabel: I also come from a long line of hunting and fishing guides. I have pilots in my family. My extended family members are ski guides, and everyone who just is so hardy that they just get the job done. And it wasn’t until I moved away from Alaska that there was this difference of someone who was outside and someone who was not. I think if you ask that as a child, I wouldn’t understand your question because I don’t know what that means.

Denali Strabel: I’ve I’ve always had a deep connection to outside, but I would say that I’ve always been taught to respect the deep connection that we have, we have to respect the playground. And like I said, I am a hunter. I take in, so much pride providing for my family. but when I hunt and I shoot down a caribou, on that weird girl bringing out her crystal and saying, thank you, mother goddess. I love you so much. You’ve provided for me and my family. You know? So I get real spiritual sometimes, but it’s always been a part of my life. It’s always been. I am I am deeply, deeply rooted in my outdoor lifestyle.

Amy Bushatz: Now Seward is this sort of magical looking space. Anyone who’s visited Alaska, may know it as a place that they maybe turned around on a cruise ship or stopped in. It’s the end of the line for the Alaska Railroad. It is a top tourist destination. So what is it like to grow up there? I mean, the weather’s not always great. What is it like to grow up there?

Denali Strabel: Hoo. Whoo Boy. Yeah. You nailed it. It is a summer destination, and then they’re Seward in the other seasons. And I think people don’t understand that, it is a part of the Pacific temperate rainforest. So all year round, The weather is not, uh, necessarily inspiring.

Amy Bushatz: No.

Denali Strabel: And I would say that tourist towns that have to shut down for the winter are hardcore. Uh, there is this drastic change that happens in in almost everything in your life. People know Seward as this tourist destination, but I don’t think a lot of people know Seward as the town.

Denali Strabel: And I I think that there is this, um, big pull especially if you go to Seward in September. I I think people would say locals are not not too nice, but you have to understand we’ve done customer service for three months. We have made all of our money for the year in three months. We have been on point for three months. We have served, wined and dined you. I think at one point, I had three jobs to where I would visit people once they got off the cruise ship. I would then be at a different location, and then I would rent them their car. And then at night at a restaurant, I would serve them their drinks. And And and they would be like, my goodness. Are there three of you? And I’d be like, no. This is Seward, baby. And then September rolls around, and you’re like, get out of here cruise ships. Get out here tourists. I don’t like this.

Denali Strabel: And then, um, but I would say, anyways, going back to Seward is beautiful. Seward is awesome. Seward makes hardcore people. The weather isn’t always inspiring, but the people are. And I learned real quick, that there isn’t such a thing as bad weather, it’s foul gear. And if you have a terrible attitude, it doesn’t matter. It’s gonna snow whether you’re crying or not. And and there’s a reason I moved to California the moment I could because I was crying about the snow. But growing up in Seward was magical. I mean, it made my normal activities seems so boring for me. But when I moved away, I realized doing something like a race Mount Marathon when you’re nine years old, Um, people thought that my parents were kind of on the verge of child abuse.

Denali Strabel: Like, how could you allow your your nine year old daughter to jump cliffs? Well, it’s not that they allowed me. I begged.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah.

Denali Strabel: And and it’s just this this, I would say that it’s this town that becomes isolated even though you can travel to it in the winter, but that isolation creates, I would say this outside lifestyle that you really have to work for what you want.

Denali Strabel: Like I said, you’re gonna cry, And it’s not gonna be fun, but you can either get outside and then turn that frown upside down, or you can stay inside and stay miserable. And the weather is not gonna change, and and that’s just your decision. That’s your crossroad. If you choose to keep going, then you’re probably gonna make it out alive. And if not, I mean, you’re gonna have a terrible time, and a lot of people do fall into that seasonal depression. And it’s really hard it’s really hard there. I would say that it has made me the hard person that I am today because I know that I survived Seward in a December blizzard, and I had to get a run-in. And And and you don’t do these things for fanfare. I think people see Mount Marathon. If anyone done their research in Mount Marathon, it’s the Super Bowl of Alaska for our,

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Just please describe it first. Describe what Mount Marathon is.

Denali Strabel: So Mount Marathon is a straight up and straight down gladiator of a show of grit, determination, and a little bit of stupidity. Um, I would say that it is the one time people care about my sport, and all the other times people don’t even realize there are other mountain races. It is always held on the fourth of July. I know that it is not only a example of our of our freedom for America, but it is really an example of our Alaskan lifestyle. Uh, it was a mountain race that was first a bar bet, two guys jonesing each other out who can make it up in under an hour, and it’s turned into, gosh, I wanna say over ninety years of this tradition that has brought not only the runners together, but people have to understand there are generations of volunteers. There are generations of spectators. I have rose to fame because, yes, I am a contender, but my family is so involved in the race that I am now figuring out there are not only nine year olds who started the race with me. There are nine year olds who started watching the race, and I have been introduced to these now thirty year olds who are like, I have watched you since I was since I was a child. You are you are one of my running heroes, and I’m thinking, Who has running heroes? What? But you realize it’s not only that it was my Exposure as a young child, there are there are children who are just watching this and being exposed to this gnarly race, And it’s this addiction. Like, I have to be there every year. I have people who have told me I am on the corner of Adams every year. I am here every year. I get my kettle corn. I mean, they have their routines. So I think that the world has been open to Mount Marathon in recent years, But they have to understand that that is not just about the racers. It is about the community it brings together for one day our humbleness gets set aside. We absolutely go get it. I mean, it’s quite terrifying. There’s someone like Me who was a high school standout standing next to an Olympic skier.

Denali Strabel: I’m looking at Holly Brooks, Kikan Randall, and I’m thinking, How is it that we’re at the same line and that they’re looking at me like you’re gonna try to race me? And I’m thinking in no way and nowhere else would this ever be a thing. Would I be bracing against Kikan Randall?? But here we are, and we are all the same. , You know and I I feel the same, uh, for For the women who are starting that wave three.

Denali Strabel: I mean, if you go up and down that mountain, you get the same glory that someone who wins. And that’s what I love about it is that everybody gets to showcase that they they are doing this most insane thing, And and we all get to high five at the end of

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I love that because it’s teaching you it’s a touchstone, like like, we’ve been talking about this whole time for digging deep.

Amy Bushatz: So you moved to California, And you fell into some things that you had to recover from.

Amy Bushatz: And you to do that, you leaned on running and being outside as you could. So can you tell us a little bit about that? What happened, and and how did the outdoors become even more important to you during that time.

Denali Strabel: Yeah. So, you know, life can be challenging, and you can easily say it’s unfair.

Amy Bushatz: Mhmm.

Denali Strabel: And life isn’t a contest of who’s had it worse than others. Right? Everybody is going through their own turmoil. We’re all little trauma babies trying to figure it out. And and it’s so interesting to look back at that time with the mindset that I have now. Uh, my husband always says, hindsight is twenty twenty. Or when we’re looking out in retrospect, you see everything for what it is.

Denali Strabel: But at the time, in the face of adversity, I chose I chose avenues that weren’t serving to me. I chose I chose to stuff feelings. I chose to stuff my trauma experience. I was careless, I mean, for for many reasons.

Denali Strabel: And, so pretty much the decisions that I made in the face of adversity had such a ripple effect that I’m still dealing with it today. The actions of someone else ripped my soul apart, and I let my abuser win over and over and over every time I chose not to talk about it, every time I chose to to stuff my feelings. I mean, I was strung out on drugs. I was chugging my secrets in closets. I was allowing insomnia to rip my soul apart, you can Google the effects of not sleeping. That is almost worse than smoking meth. I mean, I I didn’t sleep. And here I was trying to be a competitive track athlete? Instead of taking the time off, instead of allowing myself to pretty much I mean, I would say it was grieving. I needed to grieve the life that I thought I was going to have, uh and then now to realize that I had this life that had trauma attached to it. And trauma doesn’t go away. Grieving doesn’t go away. There’s no end spot to it. It’s just how are you gonna grow around it.

Amy Bushatz: I think this is so important because trauma’s trauma. It doesn’t matter where it comes from when it comes time to deal with it. It can be abuse. It can be something that happens to you that’s outside your control. It can be the loss of a person. Trauma’s trauma. And when you choose an avenue that is not healthy, you create the ripple effects that you then have to deal with. Choosing unhealthy avenues happens to everyone. It doesn’t really matter what that avenue is, then we have to deal with it with the fallout of that.

Amy Bushatz: And I just think that is so powerful and so relatable to acknowledge that that happens to us and then to say, yeah, but we have tools for dealing with that. Should we have the presence and be in a place where we can choose to use them.

Denali Strabel: I like to look at it as that we are always going to find ourselves at a crossroads, and we either take the path where we keep going or the one where we stop. And even though I felt like I kept going because this terrible horrific tragedy happened to me, and I was victim blamed. And the ripple effect of being victim blame is absolutely just ridiculous. And then the problem you deal with is that people people wanna listen to you and they wanna help, but people are fixers. We’re a society of fixers, and we wanna fix something.

Denali Strabel: And if we can’t fix something, then we get a little angry. Then that person is going through that traumatic experience. Is like, oh my gosh. They’re angry at me. I’m never gonna talk about this again.

Denali Strabel: Or when we don’t understand something, like, I don’t understand how to help you, And I don’t mean to come off angry, but now I’m angry. And I’m not angry at you, but I’m not expressing that correctly. And then someone who’s in a state that I was where, like, this thing happened to me. I needed to go back to college. I needed to be a team captain.

Denali Strabel: There was a whole slew of freshmen that I helped recruit with my coach that I needed to be there for. I needed to be that team leader, and I needed to be perfect. And instead of taking the time off, instead of to take, you know, what it needed whatever I needed to do, I didn’t. And I went there and with each workout I broke down, with every day with every day, I got worse and worse and worse to the point where I wasted my time in college. I did not become the track athlete that I should have been.

Denali Strabel: I had one of the country’s most amazing coaches, and I have rebuilt that bridge with her, but it will never be the same. I mean, I hurt her. She hurt me, but it was all a misunderstanding because I should’ve just been open about what was going on. And I felt at the time, if I was open, then I was gonna let everyone know I was damaged. And I couldn’t I couldn’t handle that. But you know what? I’m wild, and I’m damaged, and I freaking love my life right now. And it’s just because I own it, and I I don’t I I don’t sit there and be the victim, but I was a victim. But there’s a difference of sulking and being in the trenches or, like, okay. Life is pretty crappy right now, but you know what? Day one, baby. And if I relapse, shoot. Day one. You know how many day ones I had? Ridiculous how many day ones I had. But then all of a sudden, it It gets to the point where I’m like, you know, I don’t even I don’t even know the last time that I slipped. And then it just becomes a habit of I I just grew around my traumatic experience, and I don’t let the abuser win, and I don’t let the voices of of the strangers. You know, we live in a time where the Internet can be so mean, and everybody has something to say, yet nobody really knows the full story.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So when encountering your day one and getting to day two, how did reconnecting with this soul level value of not even having to learn to be someone outside. It just it was you that you saw slip away when you went to California. How did reconnecting with that help you move through this.

Denali Strabel: So First, I did the traditional path of therapy

Amy Bushatz: Mhmm. Cosigned. Love it.

Denali Strabel: Well and and in this country, that gets expensive. But once once I found a a few kind of, I would say, just a few sayings. I can’t even think of them now, but but it was just like a a little moments of, like, hey. I can think about that while I’m running. And a little life mantras and a little, like, hey. Stay in there, buddy. But I think the real major thing was is that I’ve been down to California, and I was already kind of like a like an unsteady domino that I set up carelessly, and I was always constantly gonna fall over because I was already changing my outdoor perspective.

Denali Strabel: And my outdoor wasn’t fun anymore. It was a job, and needed to get done. And track is very straightforward. You run the times or you don’t. It’s nothing like what I live now with the bamboozlement of the trail, and everyone has these obstacles, and you’re almost hoping for someone to trip on a root because I stayed up better than you.

Denali Strabel: But you’ve got a track. There’s not a lot going on unless someone spikes you. So what I really found is that I had to go back to my roots. I had to go back to why I even run. Why do I run? And I was so Gosh. When you recover, your body just comes becomes in the shock mode. I I couldn’t run, and I gave up running. I I wanted to never compete ever again, so I started walking. And then I started jogging, and I took a journal with me.

Denali Strabel: One of those all weather journals that, um, I could write in the rain. I could write in the sun. And at the time, I didn’t have a child or responsibilities. I was twenty five, and woohoo . So I could I could utilize my talent, though, and go into the mountains.

Denali Strabel: I could go on and I could slow down. If I started crying, well, I wasn’t gonna turn around. I just cried and moved forward. And realized that I saw the trails differently. In a slower mindset, I was able to realize, gosh, how beautiful the world around me was and how I’m still here. And I survived something very traumatic, left for dead, but here I am, and I get to look at this fern that makes me wonder, were the dinosaurs here when this fern was? I mean, look at how look at how long this plant has been here. It’s thrived through the Seward weather. I can too. And it and it’s so silly. I’m talking about plant. But it’s also it’s the most littlest things that you just you just run past every day, and you don’t even acknowledge, like, how long has this tree been here?

Amy Bushatz: Well, it’s a connection. Right? It’s a connection and a grounding. And I don’t think it’s a little thing. I think it’s a big thing because it’s what connects us to our world. Folks may have heard an episode I did not long ago on this a horrific hike I had through the Grand Canyon that just really fell apart because of somebody who is with me. But I will say, while I was waiting for this person on one of the many times that I stood waiting for them to be able to move forward, I had the chance to look around in a way that I would not have had the chance to look around while I was just trucking through. And one of the things I noticed that I don’t think I will ever forget was this, I mean, just house sized ginormous rock sitting in a river in a creek bed on its corner, just balanced perfectly on its humongous corner.

Amy Bushatz: I was gonna say a little corner. No. Ginormous corner of this ginormous red rock. And I’m standing there looking at this thing that clearly just fell out of the sky at some point to land here. . And I’m thinking, how long has this rock been there? And what would have been like to be standing here when it fell?

Amy Bushatz: And time immemorial probably is how long this rock has been there. And yet I am standing here looking at this thing on this sunny day in October, and we’re all here together, and we’re connected through this moment of grounding. And, I mean, what what a moment that you could just be like, meh, It’s a rock. Move on.

Denali Strabel: Or not even look at

Amy Bushatz: Or no one can look at it. Not even have the

Denali Strabel: at

Amy Bushatz: to see it.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Mhmm.

Denali Strabel: I I mean all the running I did in California had a purpose.

Denali Strabel: And, unfortunately, you know, I missed connections with the teammates I should have had. I didn’t make lifelong friends. And and majority of them know my story, and and I hope that they can understand that I am not that same girl I was ten years ago. We all change, but here I am still running, and I find more value in the running I do now than I than I did in in all those laps around that beautiful sunny landscape in California. I I mean, I never once looked around.

Denali Strabel: I never once thought, man, this is a glorious day to be running. I never I never thought of that. It was about the splits. It was about, okay. I gotta keep up with, so and so or, oh, so and so is coming up behind me.

Denali Strabel: And, you know, we could also get into the discussion of that’s why women can’t get along because society tells us there’s always a younger version of us coming after us. You know? And so I was too worried. So when this traumatic event happened, my outlet of the outdoor wasn’t my outlet anymore, and that was a real humbling moment for me. I mean, I got I I got real kicked down from that because then, well, what am I gonna utilize to help me? What am I gonna you. And everybody always said, like, we’ll go on a walk. And I’m like, well, I’m not gonna go walk and be in city street lights and there’s nothing to look at here. It wasn’t until I moved back home that I realized, my god, there’s mountains here that tower me, and I I now finally can see the direction. Like, I I I realized down there. I didn’t know my direction because I didn’t have mountains to tell me. I didn’t have ocean to to, you know, be there. I I was so wrapped up in all of this hoopla of splits that I I realized I think I was running myself into the ground. So when the traumatic event happened, I think I was already gone. It was just like, it was the last straw, And I but I I looking at it now, I think I was already already missing so much of of why, my reason why. And they still don’t know my reason why, but it sure as hell better when we’re in our own mountains looking around having a hard day huffing and puffing, and you look up and you think, wow did Bob Ross in heaven paint this landscape that I’m looking at right now? You know? You have to believe in magic when you look at our mountains and our, our landscape that like, how privileged are we? How privileged were you to look at that rock? You were having such a terrible time because I know the story. Makes me angry thinking about it. But it’s just like, right, how privileged were you to get that moment with that rock?

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So most recently, you’ve faced another and are facing another colossal challenge and loss. Your identical twin sister Rubye died very unexpectedly last year in a boating accident. Could you tell us about Rubye? Tell us about her. What was Rubye like?

Denali Strabel: Man, oh, man. Here we go. Good question. Great question. Digging deep. so my, Okay. Here we go. up, buttercup.

Amy Bushatz: We’re both crying now friend.

Denali Strabel: But it’s good to cry. It’s good cry. You need to cry. I I didn’t cry for so many years, and it was like self abandonment. And I think to talk about my sister, It’s good to cry. And my sister was so wackadoodle. She passionate. She was a goofball.

Denali Strabel: She was born to be a mother. The tragic thing about my sister is that she was, She had just given birth to my little baby niece, and, um, when she died, Harbour was two months old. And it was just it was just so tragic because because you and I are both mothers, and you can you can probably understand when I say that motherhood changes you, and some people need motherhood. Some people need that, and it’s not like Rubye needed any reason to live, but it was like this this was gonna be the turning point for her. She was a survivor of domestic abuse, and I unfortunately lost my sister to that. And then she met her husband who saved her. And and and and when he says things like, gosh. She would have loved the woman she was turning into, I have to rebuttal and say, well, that was the woman she always was. And it’s it’s hard for me to talk about her because It’s it’s so it’s so rude. It’s just rude. It’s just rude, the tragic event, because how dare how dare she miss out on motherhood? How dare she miss out on on becoming the person she always should have been? She was just getting back. And and how dare she go through that tragic event and not get to the point where I am in my journey? She can’t say ten years ago, I was at the bottom of the barrel, and look at me now.

Denali Strabel: She can’t say that. And and and that’s where I say, I’m just bitter about a lot of it.

Denali Strabel: But my sister was one heck of a gal. I mean, she she full blown went into our family tradition of hunting and fishing guides. She was an outdoors woman. She, uh, we have her Instagram page still up.

Denali Strabel: You can look at all her goofy videos. I mean, she was a the complete opposite of me. I don’t like to be online. Even though that kinda contradicts with what I have been doing with my grief, and we’ll get into that later, I have found that I’m online more than I ever have. But it’s because I think I’m trying to save a little piece of Rubye. Because she was so online, and it’s so happy for me that I get to go and look at her goofy videos that are gonna be up there, and we’ve talked about it as a family. We’re gonna keep her pages up, and I don’t think people understand how how happy it makes me feel when her friends and her extended family members that I really never got to know text me and say, gosh. I was looking at Rubye’s videos the other day and just to hear her voice. I mean most people only have a voice mail or only have their their, outgoing message of, hey. You’ve reached Rubye I’m not here right now. And they’ll play that over and over and over again, which I do. But I also have all these voice mails, all these videos, all these things that, my god, I’m, for once in my life, excited that the Internet exists.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah.

Denali Strabel: Because it’s it, like, saves her locked in time, and it’s not just a picture. It’s her voice. It’s her it’s her charisma. It’s it’s her It’s just it’s just who she was.

Denali Strabel: She didn’t give a flying f what you thought about her. She was the girl with a pink mohawk Shooting threes on our basketball team when the high school coach we were in middle school said, well, she’s gonna play for me. She’s not gonna look like that. You wanna know what she did? In response, she shaved her head, and then she and then she helped her team make it to state.

Denali Strabel: So it’s just like she just she just said, look at me, or she was the type of girl who I beat her all year long in cross country races thinking I am flying high on my ego booster. The day of state comes. She looks at me on the line and says, I’m winning today. And you wanna know what she does? She wins. And she not only wins, she wins by a margin. She flies high. And I’m just like You know? And by the third time she did that to me, I just started thinking, yeah. You probably are coolio. Like, you know, she type of girl who showed up when it counted, and anyone who coached her will probably understand this.

Denali Strabel: Like, you know, you tell her, Well, maybe next year. She’s like, next week. So, like, so and and she was my biggest fan, and she believed in me more than I I ever believed in myself, and and it’s like I always I always had the natural talent and the drive, but she was someone who just I don’t even know how to explain that type of person, and you know these people in your life. They’re just kind of, like, they can they can half learn it, and then they’re an expert. Right? So she half learned this situation, and then she’s like, oh, I know exactly how to beat you in a race.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah.

Denali Strabel: But she never she never beat me at Mount Marathon. That’s my glory, and she knew it too. And but because because I had to go to extreme limits to equal the the the playing field because she was just that hardcore. I It was remarkable the type of girl she was, and I miss her dearly. And, um, yeah, it’s really hard.

Amy Bushatz: What is it like to lose an identical twin? What is it like to lose that, and how did having nature and the mountains to lean on help you is helping you get through? Because it hasn’t even been a year, Denali. Like so this is still very much something that we’re moving through.

Denali Strabel: Right. It is a so grief grief is not a task. It is a process. And I will say it again, we grow around our grief. And losing her is still a shock. If you picture it like a a dark hole, I am seven months into this, and I have maybe maybe a ring of new experience around her for making a painting. And now our new experiences are different colors, and we’re making rings around this dark hole. I would say in this seven months, I have made half half around the circle with the color blue. Right? Like so it’s like if I if I imagine trying to really speak about it, I don’t think my brain can still comprehend. I think that for me, grief is not only the loss of my sister, but the loss the life that I that I should have had with her in it. And so I am still torn between, is this really happening? Because I was so sure that things were gonna go down this path. And that path isn’t even an option anymore because she’s not here.

Amy Bushatz: Right.

Denali Strabel: And so I I I really do feel like a stranger in this world. My safety net has been ripped out from underneath me. And so, like, if she could die, I could die. We could all die. We know we’re gonna die. That’s the inevitable. But do we really think about it? Do we really understand that there is no control? And so I I moved to new mountains. That was ultimately how we found each other because they positioned myself in a way of, I need to find outdoor people. I need to find my new community in these new mountains and thankful I am thankful for all the people I found before this happened and and all the people I have found through this. But going into the mountains was more meaningful because I I had days where I was in all of my running gear, and I’m having a panic attack. I’m sobbing on the ground. I’m gripping the tile. I’m I’m I’m hyperventilating. And then I allow all of that to happen. I allow it to happen. I allow it to make it where I feel as though I myself am going to die. I’m going to pass out on this floor right now. And then I also think, my god I used to be like this praying to the porcelain god in a very different situation. But this is kind of feeling like a full circle moment.

Denali Strabel: And instead of being, like, my early twenties and choosing isolation and choosing anger, I still pray to the porcelain god because I’m crying so hard that I’m vomiting. But then I get up. I still have tears in my eyes and I go. And and if I have to start walking, I walk.

Denali Strabel: If I walk for two hours, I walk. It’s fine. That’s what I’m gonna do. If I run, I run. My coach, when things get down, my coach says, okay, no more scheduled workouts until you feel better. I am very transparent with him, very, very open with my friends. It’s not this hush-hush situation. It is we are talking about Rubye. My grief is also stained with the murder of my nephew. He was murdered, in two thousand nineteen at, a young age, and it just wasn’t fair. And then my sister tragically dies, and it just wasn’t fair. And none of it’s fair. But you know what? It’s it’s not a world full of fairness.

Denali Strabel: That is what happens. We are here to live and we are here to die. And I don’t mean to be so blunt about it, but I’m still here living. And I’m surviving. And not always thriving, but there is a sense that when I I do reach that mountain, I I think I am still here, and I can I can make it a shitty experience or I can make it as good as I can today? And some days, it is just walking around my driveway.

Denali Strabel: I took a lot of driveway walks. That’s a half a mile. Half a mile. I did a lot of half I got a long driveway. There’s a hill at the end. It’s terrible.

Denali Strabel: But It’s like then I slowly allowed myself to do more and more. And then before I knew it, for our birthday was this year, and, losing a twin is very surreal. I felt the moment she left this world, . But I told my coach, you know, I want I wanna go spread her ashes where my nephew’s ashes are in Hatcher Pass, But I wanna take the long way.

Denali Strabel: And the long way is starting from my house, going up and over Government Peak, down into April Bowl, down into Hatcher Pass, up and over another mountain. I mean, it ultimately, I think, was twenty two, over ten thousand feet of climbing, all to spread her ashes. And by the time I got to the point to spread Rubye’s ashes, it was pouring on me. I couldn’t even get to the spot that my nephew was. I got, like, as close as I could, and I just sat there with my my drenched peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my sister’s ashes were in one hand in a cup. And you wanna know what freaking happened? A little bird came, And I say birds are my are my lost loved ones coming and checking in on me because my parents have stories of birds. Rubye came to me in my dreams and told me, look for me in the birds. There’s been so many bird situations, and it was this goofy looking bird that looked like it probably survived a few attacks. I mean, this gangly thing. And I’m I’m sitting there sobbing, and this bird just just comes and is so close to me that I’m thinking, Rubye? And then I’m laughing, hysterically laughing, laughing so much that I drop her ashes in my It turns into this whole situation. My hands wet from the rain, Rubye’s ashes are on me. I’m like, oh my god. Now I can’t eat this sandwich. Are there ashes on sandwich? I mean, like, it’s just it just turned into this hot mess, and and I realized that I can still laugh.

Denali Strabel: There can still be moments in this happiness, but also my life is always gonna be stained with this sadness. And that’s okay because sometimes you just need some goofy little bird to come remind you that that, hey life does get a little little sad, but we’re still here. And and and and we can still find a reason to laugh.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And recovery isn’t a straight line. You know, moving through grief and thriving isn’t just straight line. We like to think that it is, or we like to think that it’s like a line that goes up. You know, like, we’re starting at the

Denali Strabel: But the but but there’s no there’s no grief standard of how to behave.

Amy Bushatz: No standard. And I really appreciate you wanting to talk about this today because you’re still moving through it in a way that is very now. And so often, we hear from people who have moved through grief, and it’s years in the past, or they’re at a point where it’s no longer so, so, so fresh that it it comes in waves still like any grief does, but it wasn’t so new.

Amy Bushatz: And I think hearing from somebody so openly like yourself who’s talk about this in the now, like, this is this is something that I’m haven’t just dealt with, but I’m dealing with right now is so, so powerful and so important, because it reminds us that this is this is being a human. This is a human condition. Everyone deals with loss on some point through life challenges, through the loss of person, things you didn’t see coming, things you wish had not come. What is your advice for people who are listening to this, who are dealing with that right now?

Denali Strabel: Well, I will say it again. There is no grief standard. There’s no standard on how to behave.

Denali Strabel: It’s it’s everyone says you’re so strong, but I didn’t want this, and I’m surviving because I have no choice. And and I would tell anybody, keep your life simple. Give yourself time to regain your equilibrium and your strength. Don’t become a people pleaser. I have found my grief that I am still worried about others.

Denali Strabel: I can’t get back to text messages. I can’t get back to writing someone a letter. I can’t get back to them. I have started there is a beautiful soul down in Seward who sent me a flower crown. I love her. She’s She’s like one of my sisters. That was months ago. I have one sentence for her love letter, but because she paid so much to me, I I can’t get the words right. And then I’m thinking, my god. She thinks I don’t appreciate it. She thinks what is she gonna think of me? Or, like Like like, you just you just realize that I think we’re always going to try to please people, and this is the one time you just gotta you just gotta stop. Don’t make yourself feel bad for how you’re feeling. And but also don’t pretend that you haven’t been wounded. Don’t stuff it down. So I would like to say, a thing that my family does is we talk about it, especially my sister because we are all going through this.

Denali Strabel: And everyone is dealing with this a lot of, in in their own in their own ways. And but the one thing is we don’t stop talking about Rubye and this isn’t, eggshell type of moment. Like, my mother and my father lost a child and an adult child. That is a really weird situation. Just like me, I lost an adult sibling. That is very interesting. That is a very gray space of grief because people don’t understand that that that’s kind of overlooked.

Amy Bushatz: Mhmm.

Denali Strabel: People really care when a baby dies, but it’s like she was an adult herself. And and here’s somebody here is as a twin here is my soulmate that I’ve had for thirty three years, and she’s gone.

Denali Strabel: But now I have to make sure my parents are okay. I have to make sure my brother’s okay. I have to make her baby’s okay. I have to make sure her husband’s okay. And and I would say that that is me worrying about other people.

Denali Strabel: And, again, that is me doing my habit of self abandonment. And I always end up doing that. But I would also say that I I am learning to to put myself forward, to put me first in a lot of situations. And I would say because my family is so open about her, and every time we get a weird spooky sign from spooky Rubye we say we text everybody in the group like, oh my god she came to me in the flowers or, Oh my god. A bat flew over my head. She came to me, spooky Rubye.

Denali Strabel: And, like, my child who is two and a half years old, he got to meet her, But he doesn’t really know her. I would say I envy the children because they don’t really know what’s going on. But he is obsessed with Rubye obsessed with Rubye he loves Rubye.

Denali Strabel: Every time he sees the moon, he says, hi, Rubye. Or every time we see a bumblebee, he says, hi, Gunner which is my nephew. It’s like you start picking things like, oh, grandma comes to us in butterflies. Rubye comes to us in the moon. Gunner’s gonna come buzz by us.

Denali Strabel: And then you start realizing, like, every time I think about Gunner, some odd reason, a bumblebee starts coming by. And I I think that the signs are all around us. So I would I would try to tell somebody to slow things down, look for the signs, and, no, you’re not crazy. You’re not crazy. It may seem like you’re crazy, but what happens if that is my sister coming through to me in a flower? Wouldn’t that be nice? And who cares if it’s not? Because now you’re thinking of her. Right? So I think it’s a win win.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And I love this idea of looking, like, paying attention to what’s around you when you’re outside to look for these things. Because, you know, I I think that our souls, our beings know what we need, and they’re try like, even as we are in this body, our sub-body if you will, are like, we’re trying to guide ourselves into wellness and to show us what we need, but our brains and, you know, all like, the trauma is derailing it. And if you can have the presence to just see what’s around you and to use those as a conduit to that peace, to that healing, to that other world, to that spookiness, if that’s who you are, then it can be a real healing space, that it can be a real way forward. And I just really appreciate you sharing that with us today and and that giving us that guidance, that lived experience that you have because I think It’s so valuable to hear again from somebody who’s really in the thick of this, and we’re going through it together. You know? You, your friends, your family, Us, everybody in

Denali Strabel: I am very I I I am open about it. And and going back to being on social media more, I have I’m more of a writer. This podcast has made me nervous. I’m like, oh, you’re gonna listen to Crazy Denali. Maybe a few.

Denali Strabel: But also, it’s it’s like trying to get my words out carefully. It’s just easier writing. And I have found that, it’s not me staying, like, in the past. It’s this is how I’m grieving, and this is how I’m moving it. And by moving forward, I am I am telling the world my raw emotions.

Denali Strabel: So whether anyone wants to listen or not, I don’t I don’t care. And it and it and it goes back to how I use the outdoors.

Denali Strabel: The outdoors allows me to be my truest self, and that is also what writing does for me Because I’m able to explore my feelings through words. And being outdoors, I’m able to explore my feelings through vision and get to see days that are wonderful, but I also see real cruddy days.

Denali Strabel: I also get outside every single day. So it’s sometimes to me, I get to see the mountains in their truest form too. And how remarkable is it that I get to see them in their truest form on the days where it’s icy and crappy and no one should be up there, there I am. I’m up there seeing their sadness. And that’s just how I feel that I have utilized my training and my freakishly talent for running that I can go very far into these mountains. And I can go to mountains that I’m not seeing anyone else on, and it makes me really think about how I think about myself, how I could share whatever I wanna share online, and that’s what people are gonna perceive me by. That’s what people are going to see. Like, oh, that’s who Denali is. They’re gonna put me in that box.

Denali Strabel: But I could also share everything. When I’m having a bad day, like, yesterday, I was having a terrible day, and I wrote to a lot of friends. I also did a post on Instagram about how I was feeling. And sure, hours later, I’m like, ew. We should probably delete that. That’s a little cringey. But I didn’t, and I kept it up there because how can I how can I take away the bad and still be the same person?

Denali Strabel: So it’s like I want people to see that this grief is so wackadoodle, and that’s okay. It’s just like going in the outdoors on a rainy day, and this is effing crazy, and why am I out here? But then it all makes sense why you’re out there, and you went outside and you feel great. And that’s what that’s what this grief has done for me. It’s made me realize that I can be open to people, and I don’t have to choose anger.

Denali Strabel: I am bitter, but I also don’t have to choose isolation. Because if I choose isolation, it’s like, I I have to think what those girls on my college team thought of me. They didn’t know I was strung out on meth, So they just thought I was someone crazy. They thought I was a wackadoodle. They were like, who is this chick?

Denali Strabel: I mean, I have I have teammates who live in Alaska who do not contact me. And it’s sad, but I’ll go back to that what I said earlier. I’m not the same girl I was ten years ago. But if I never told them why I was acting crazy, they’ll never know. And not that it’s an excuse. But, sure, doesn’t it help for them to know, like, well, drugs are one hell of a thing, you know, instead of being like, why is she crazy?

Denali Strabel: So it’s like, I don’t want people to see me crying and just think, oh god, she’s having a bad day. I want them to understand why I’m having a bad day. Because I thought about the reality, and the numbness is gone. And and this is this is the worst. This is not a nightmare, Because a nightmare is something you fabricate. A nightmare isn’t real. This is real. And I I I some days tell myself, I wish this was a nightmare because then I could wake up.

Amy Bushatz: Mhmm.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Denali I I so appreciate you sharing these tools that you have and this journey that you’re on that we’re all continually on together as humans, but in your you know, with your particular, battles that you’ve waged and are waging, I just really appreciate it. As we close out this podcast episode today, if you wouldn’t mind walking us out with a favorite outdoor moment that you have. You you’ve described so many moments in the mountains today and and hilarious and beautiful ones. Um, but maybe give us one more, something that you love to go back to in your mind and just kinda cling to.

Denali Strabel: This one I was excited about answering, because it it represents a lot of adventures I’ve been on. And it actually involves you and our dear friend, Rachel. Um, I have this weird thing about my birthdays, and we’ve talked about it. And you have a weird thing about birthdays, and we’re Like, ma, nobody look at me. It’s my birthday. Um, and then we have a girlfriend, Rachel, who just loves birthdays and holidays and My god. Um, and you’re like, wow. Cool. Great. I can’t walk away from this. Uh, but

Amy Bushatz: Okay.

Denali Strabel: it’s an adventure where you where you stole me, and you gave me a a a adventure that was Palmer as you called it. You took me to all these spots in Palmer, and this was this new place that I’m living. I don’t know anybody, and you’re walking me around. You’re showing me what to do, what to buy. We went paddle boarding. I mean, just like we did all these crazy fun things.

Denali Strabel: But the entire time, why it was so meaningful to me and why it represents so many other adventures I’ve been on with new friends is that In your eyes, you finally saw me as the human that I am and not the racer that I am. You started off with calling me Alaska famous and and maybe so. And you know how much I hate that, and you know how much I don’t do this for fanfare. Now it’s become a running joke, and we now bring it up to make light of the situation. But I don’t think you all realize is that I I take people on adventures, so in their eyes, they can take me off of that pedestal. I m not scary. So it’s like, There we were, pumping up the paddle boards, and and everything’s going wrong, and everything’s going right. And I’m just thinking, This is the most raw moment. We’re in the outdoors. We’re hooping and hollering. We’re laughing. It’s raining.

Denali Strabel: I bring up the question, should we be in a lake? Is there lightning? Is my paddle board gonna just be, you know, hello, and we have no care? There. Maybe we’ll die. Who cares? You know? Wear your birthday hat. it’s it’s just a raw moment that shows that that people people see me as this intense racer, and I’m only doing it to battle my own demons. I’m only racing because this is a tiny part in my running life. I’m not gonna be racing for the rest of my life, so I might as well try to get the best that I can.

Denali Strabel: And it’s it’s the same thing as befriending Christy Marvin. I mean, this woman is insane. If you’ve only seen her at races, you’re thinking, does she smile? I mean, I would never wanna get in a bar fight with this woman, but she was also the woman who when my sister died, She brought me over to my house, and she showed me how to make bread.

Denali Strabel: And she made bread that I ate that I thought this is filled with love. This is a tender woman that I never I never would have gotten to see if it wasn’t for being outside of the race scene. So my adventure with you gals and every adventure with you gals is just so remarkable to me because I finally get to see, you know, you as human and you get to see me as human. Right?

Denali Strabel: Like, it just makes me a little more human, And it makes me happy because then we become friends, and then you can say, yeah. That girl, I know her. Oh, the who one? She’s not gonna tell you she just won, but I’ll I’ll tell you. So it’s like now you get to be a part of my fanfare, and I would like to end it with saying, like, that’s what Rubye was for

Denali Strabel: I never like to talk about my accomplishments. I mean, we’ve been on a relay team where the girls on our relay team had to figure out how fast I was because I was in a hotdog suit running a five minute mile. And then they went, so you are a runner. But Rubye was always the gal who was in the crowd saying, you have no idea what this girl you. I mean, Rubye was my biggest fan, and you’ve turned into my biggest fan. And so many other women have turned into my biggest fans because I’ve allowed the outdoors to bring us together, and it is my most favorite thing to do is to just chill the f out. And let’s go hiking. Let’s go running. Let’s go laugh a little bit.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. I am just I am so grateful for you sharing your story today and and having these raw moments with us here on Humans Outside. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Denali Strabel: Thank Thank you for having me. I love you so much. You know this.

Amy Bushatz: That’s a wrap on this episode of humans outside. But, hey, I need your help. Enjoy this show. Leave a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It makes me feel good, but it also helps others find the show too, which is cool.

Amy Bushatz: Right? Now go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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