Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thanksgiving Running and Anza Borrego Trip Report

Thanksgiving weekend offered a number of days where running was a pleasure. I knocked out a Clinton N. Shore 10 mile Lands End loop on T-day, a 6-ish mile Lake Henry loop with a trip to the mound on Friday. A 4 mile nothing run on Sat. And then a 10 mile River Trail loop on Sun. Two of the runs were done solo, and two were with Hawk running buddies Mike and Jeff.  While wildlife sightings were not too varied, the deer sightings were plentiful, with each run offering multiple encounters.

On Sunday, after running with my friends, we knocked out some high-carb fare at the Breakfast Club at ECM. Later tat afternoon I popped back out to the trails with my bike. I had been planning to go at a pretty good clip, but ran into some friends - two of whom I had biked with around France in 2001 - so my plans changed to a fun ride spent catching up.

I had returned from a camping and hiking trip to Anza Borrego in southern California. I had never been to the park which sits in the Colorado desert inland from San Diego. The massive park offers mountains, desert, canyons, rock formations, mud caves, and hot springs. The first night we drove off the highway into a wash and up the backside of a hill to camp on the edge of a cliff that overlooked a Bryce Canyon-esque expanse. The place we chose, Fonts Point, is considered the best place in the park from which to view sunrises and sunsets. There were a few non-campers sitting near the edge in order to enjoy the vista. When the sun sank in the distance, they departed leaving us alone to enjoy the starry night and a decent number of meteors.


Canyon below our camp

Sunset the first night

After a short morning hike, we packed camp and headed about an hour away toward our home for the next two days, the campground at Aguas Calientes. On the way, we paused in the town of Borrego Springs to look at some art and to grab a fantastic meal at a restaurant called Red Ocotillo. We hadn't expected much when walking in. But we were both knocked out by the flavors that presented themselves in the food we ordered. We sat on a little patio under a tree surrounded by flat, beautiful desert. It was a great experience.

When we arrived at Aguas Calientes, the quiet calm of the trip changed. The campground, administered by the county of San Diego, was one of the most crowded places I had ever camped. We  had a couple of spots reserved for us and friends who showed up a bit later. We had a large family on one side and a noisy troop of boy scouts on the other. The afternoon and evening of the first day, we mainly spent setting up camp and then enjoying the hot springs. 

Day two found us in the desert about 6 miles away exploring mud caves and slot canyons. I rarely get bothered by places, but the fragile nature of the massive mud/dirt walls, overhangs, and caves got to me. I loved the view and the formations, but seeing huge chunks (some house-sized) of mud/dirt that had calved off of the cliffs (some very recently) gave me pause. We had wandered about a mile up one of the canyons passing through some very sketchy tunnels when I finally had to say that I had had enough. Interestingly, there was very quick agreement from another member of our party, and absolutely no objection from anyone else for turning around and calling it a hike. 

Mud Caves

Panorama of a more open mud canyon entrance

We returned to our camp after a long drive back along washboard paths. We took a hike on the Moonlight Trail - basically a 2 mile jaunt around a small mountain with a decent amount of elevation gain/loss. We saw a lot of rabbits and a number of ocotillos in bloom (always exciting to see).

Bighorn Sheep

Finally, One of the neatest things we saw during our stay in the desert was a trio of bighorn sheep. They hung out about 200 feet above our camp for three hours on day two of the trip. With boy scouts and campers noisily going about their lives below, the sheep grazed on the side of the slope paying little heed to their temporary human neighbors. It was pretty cool to witness.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mt. Langley - My 1st Sierra Summit

So last week I bagged my third 14er for the year. I am just as fine with climbing 13ers. But, since there seems to be a certain cachet to the 14er oeuvre, that is what I'll write about today. My buddy, Jack Tyson (who you may recall from the Joshua Tree Traverse posts), and I did a three day trip to the Sierras that culminated at the summit of Mt. Langley.

Jack loaded up for the hike to base camp

Jack is an avid rock climber, hiker, mountain climber, and outdoorsman. He's been up Langley using different routes three times. So this trip was in his wheelhouse.

For me, though, it was a new (ish) experience. It was the first time I had spent three days camping at over 11,500ft. It was my first multi-day hike. It was also the first time I had drunk water from a stream. Since Africa and the Himalayas are in the offing, it was also a chance for me to try out new high-altitude, cold weather gear.

The first day we hiked up and in to a camping spot we created near Long Lake. The lake is part of a series of high mountain lakes that dot that part of the Sierras. The water is clear and clean. Enormous, gorgeous rock faces covered two directions, with the lake and more expansive scenic views were on our other sides. It is hard to describe the beauty and the enormity of our surroundings.

Sunrise on one side of Long Lake

The nights were cold - 19F on the first. It was chilly at the campsite due to a no campfire rule. We cooked over small backpacking stoves and then popped into our Marmot Never Summer sleeping bags early on both nights. 

On day 2, we awoke, packed up jackets, water, a GoPro, some food, and a couple of beers, and trudged up the New Army Trail toward High Lake and ultimately the summit of Langley. As with all 14ers, the uphill pace was a bit slow. The altitude and pitch combined to slow the speed. 

After a couple of hours (maybe a little more) we found ourselves just below the summit. the Class 2 trail led off in the distance for a slightly circuitous route to the top. Jack suggested that we blow that off and climb a Class 3 boulder route that stood directly between us and the summit. Not having done that before (well certainly not at 13,000 ft), I said 'sure'. And with that we stowed our poles by a boulder and began to climb. 

The Summit

We spent a bit of time on the summit, taking photos, videos, cracking a beer, eating PB and cheddar sandwiches, and watching the incredibly cute little high-altitude rock mice. The views were spectacular. Whitney was visible a few miles away. Due to the time of year, Jack and I had the summit all to ourselves. We hung out for 30-40 min and then went back down through the boulders and glissaded down to where the Old Army Trail connects with the summit trail. Even though taking the Old Army Trail would add a couple of miles to our journey, we took it down a cliff wall in order to see a new set of bowls and lakes. 

We came down the Old Army Trail along the wall at the far end of the photo above

Along the way back we passed deer and marmots (my all time favorite animal, if I had to choose). After the 12 mile roundtrip to the summit, we made dinner, had a couple of beers, and then hike out the next morning. 

I had always thought of the Sierras as secondary to the Rockies. Well, no more. The range is at least as spectacular. And it has a much smaller group of people who use it. I will definitely be back soon.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kayaking and Colorado

It has been quite some time since I last posted here. I've been working on podcasts (both as guest and host - more on those later), running, reading, working, biking, and kayaking (my new love). I have a little kayak that my father used to use. He really liked to kayak and I never understood why until after he died and I tried it out. The little boat was/is super fun. I took it out on the Wakarusa a few time and it performed well. But when I decided to start paddling on the Kaw and Delaware I decided I needed  a bit more of a touring kayak. I picked up a Wilderness Experience 14 footer at Sunflower Outdoors, and have had nothing but wonderful experiences on the bigger rivers since. I also have found out that a lot of my friends also kayak. I have three main paddle partners and about ten others that just like to hit the water occasionally. It has been a real pleasure to find a new way to spend time in nature with friends.

Paddling behind Paul Endacott in his fabulous hand built wooden kayak on the Wakarusa

With Blair Sutton and a rainbow on the Kaw on July 4 - heading down from Perry to Lawrence to watch the fireworks from the river

Last week, in order to avoid the full brunt of July's heat and humidity, I popped out to Colorado with my buddy, Eric Struckoff. Eric and I and a few friends did a self-contained bike trip around Southern France in 2001. This time we took road and mountain bikes (as well as hiking gear and disc golf accoutrement). We hit Leadville, and spent 5 adventure-filled days. We biked to the top of Mt Evans at over 14,000ft. The road to the summit is highest paved road in North America. I hadn't been too sure about how that would pan out. While I bike a lot, I don't really consider myself a cyclist. The air gets pretty thin at that altitude. But nevertheless, I persisted. Eric (who is a stunningly good cyclist) was kind enough to go at a pace that I could handle. Honestly, it was a real joy to be on the side of the mountain. The views were awe-inspiring, and the ride challenging enough to keep it interesting. As a bonus, on the way to the top, we passed a herd of mountain goats.

Mountain goats on the slopes of Mt. Evans (photo taken at around 13,000 ft)

The next day we spent on the grounds of Colorado Mountain College. CMC not only has the highest disc golf course in the US, but it also has miles of fantastic mtn biking trails for all skill levels. Every climb up the mountain (super fun in itself) was rewarded with awesome downhills. There was even a portion of the trails that had man-made jumps and ramps.

Our final endeavor was to climb Mt. Massive. Instead of hiking the gently sloping longer routes from the Leadville side, Eric and I opted to go for a shorter, but more challenging, route from the back side if the mountain. The path we chose was intensely rocky, with much scrambling over scree and talus deposits. The path was also insanely steep, rising 1,000 ft / mile. I got a bit of vertigo a couple of times. And when we finally made it to the top ridge at 14,300ft, I called it a day while Eric popped over a few more outcroppings to the true summit. We had budgeted 3 hours for the trip. But between the rocks and the rise, the hike took about 6.5 hours. The beauty of the place was staggering. We walked over rocks and a little snow, between flowers and other heart high-altitude plants, and across a few little streams. There were a few other hikers. But our favorite company were the plump marmots that came out of multiple burrows in the rocks to check us out. Massive was tough. But again, we felt rewarded tenfold for the effort we put in.

Other things we undertook - a couple of rounds of disc golf on the aforementioned course, road biking the Mineral Belt Loop, ate great meals in Idaho Springs as well as at the fantastic Tennessee Pass Cafe in Leadville.

The views, as always, were perpetually stunning wherever we were. Colorado from the Front Range west never waivers from offering some of the most picturesque landscapes on the planet. I hope to make it back soon.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

My First Non-Race Report - The Heartland 50

Having moved the r2r2r run to October, I thought I'd sign up for a few shorter ultras during the intervening months in order to keep in long distance shape. Last weekend, I was slated to do a race I have done before which takes place on one of my favorite courses - rolling gravel roads in the open prairies of Kansas. The Heartland 50k is a well-organized event with a bunch of friendly runners and volunteers. It takes place simultaneously with the longer, Heartland 50 (miles). The 50k, for me, is a sufficient distance to keep within striking distance of 50 mile shape for later in the year.

I had really been looking forward to the event. But as the final week approached, my buddy Paul and I both looked at the projected weather and knew that there was a possibility that the course would become much more difficult. Last year, for instance, a heavy rain the evening before the race turned the course into a muddy mess in places. Still, the run had taken place on what turned out to be a beautiful day. It became one of my top 10 runs/races I had done.

This year, though, the forecast called for temps in the 30s and 40s (F), winds of 20mph (with gusts up to 35), and rain. It looked to be brutal. Paul and I began to re-evaluate our desire to run the race. Ultimately, we decided to give it a go. On Thursday I went out for an easy run - planned to be my last before the race - and within the first quarter mile had sustained an injury to my ankle. I met with my massage therapist that afternoon to try to fix the issue, but it was a non-starter. On Saturday I awoke at my house at 7:30 AM and had trouble walking. I knew Paul was already out on the course for an hour and a half by that time. The weather was cold and rainy. And, as much as I don't want an injury and as much as I love to run, I was a bit relieved that the injury had occurred when it did.

Many hours later, I got a call with a race report from Paul as he drove the 2 hours home on the highway. Cold, wet, miserable. I know he completed something herculean, and felt a sense of accomplishment, but I also know now that in future races, should the weather be similar to what occurred at Heartland yesterday, that he probably wouldn't do it again.

As I sit with my ankle wrapped and elevated this morning, I am looking at another couple of races to enter. I am hopeful that this injury will be in the rear-view mirror in a couple of weeks and I can resume doing the sport I love. Until then, I will have to live vicariously through my crazy friends who ran the Heartland and also those who ran the equally (and maybe more so) challenging Flatrock 101 this past weekend.

Do a search online for photos of either race and you'll get an idea of just how deep (waist-deep) the water got in places on both courses.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Joshua Tree Traverse - 3/15/2017

I'm starting this post the morning after completing the Joshua Tree Traverse, a 38 mile (not 37 as I had previously written), trail run through the Mojave Desert portion of the national park's western region. For me, the run was spectacular. It was the pinnacle of everything I have ever wanted to do in terms of trail running. While Chris Ford, Jack Tyson, and I had been using the Traverse as our final major shake-out run prior to attempting a Rim to Rim to Rim run at the Grand Canyon next month, for me, the Joshua Tree run was the course I wanted to complete more than any other.

Over the past several years, Joshua Tree has become one of my two favorite national parks (the other being Canyonlands). I have been to Joshua Tree many times, including once a month for the past three months. I have run, hiked, and driven through large portions of the park. And until yesterday, I really thought I knew almost all of the park's features and secrets. The Traverse disabused me of that premise.

My two running buddies and I set off from Black Rock Campground at 6:32 AM, just as light was breaking. It was cold, but we eschewed clothing heavier than t-shirts and running shorts. We knew the park would quickly warm. We had read that the initial 5 miles of the course were sandy and uphill. A guy who used to own the FKT for the route had said to take your time and to not expend a lot of energy on that portion. We took that to heart and spent the first 5.5 miles jogging and walking with purpose up the sandy slope.

When we reached the top, we encountered a portion of the park none of us had ever seen. It was miles of beautiful desert. It looked like a massive version of a well-landscaped southwestern US front lawn. We were a bit jubilant to have reached this new desert-scape. Our next couple of trail miles were at a 9 minute pace (a bit faster than we wanted to average for the run).

After a few miles in the desert garden, we had a mountain pass to confront. We alternately ran and hiked quickly through a series of little climbs and drops amongst a series of switchbacks. When we reached the top, we could see that we were going to descend into another valley, the likes of which we also had never seen in the park. The new valley again looked like a well kept desert lawn. This one was blanketed with green grass and millions (or billions) of tiny purple flowers. The valley also went on for miles. We spent the better part of the next hour making our way through the purple paradise. Jack made the comment a couple of times that he never would have recognized the places through which we had journeyed as being part of Joshua Tree. They were completely different than anything we had experienced in other parts of the park.

When we left the flowered valley, we found ourselves at the top of a pass where the trail dropped steeply along a ridge line for a couple of miles. We pounded down into yet another new ecosystem. This part of the trail had more of an Arizona desert feel. It also had the steepest and second longest climb on the run. We again walked with purpose up the side of the mountain. And at the top, we encountered a more familiar landscape and finally started to feel as if we were in the Joshua Tree that most people know.

Jack had been having hamstring and knee issues for the past couple of months. And at about 15 miles into the run, he announced that he would drop at the extraction point near Ryan Campground five miles ahead. We stopped to reapply sunscreen, eat a protein bar or two, dump sand from our shoes, and to make sure Jack would be able to make the final miles to Ryan if Chris and I took off. Jack, who knows the park better than Chris or I, insisted that we go. He would get to Ryan and hitchhike back to the car and pick us up at the conclusion of the course.

We were all disappointed with the turn of events. It is not easy to see someone who has trained for an adventure be forced to abandon it. But no run is worth sustaining an injury that could take a long time to heal. Jack made the right decision - one I would have made - and would live to run another day.

Chris and I ran mainly downhill over alternately extremely rocky and then smooth trails for the next 5 miles. The rocks in this section were iron-rich and orange in color. The alternating packed sand smooth sections were much lighter in color. And that contrast, which would occur suddenly, is something that we encountered throughout the run. In several instances, the ground color would shift as abruptly as if crossing a line in the sand.

We arrived at the road crossing near Ryan Campground and replenished our water bottles and reservoirs under the shade of a large Joshua Tree. We had stashed three gallons of water there the previous evening knowing we'd need it. It was a bit strange to be near a road after a morning spent almost completely in wilderness. We left two empty gallon jugs and the third full one for Jack, and then started the second half of the journey.

The path took us by the outskirts of Ryan Campground and then up a pass on the back side of the mountain - a side that most tourists don't use. Coming up the pass, we encountered our first people in twenty miles, a couple of women backpacking. We said hello as we passed, and then continued farther into the desert.   At this point, we found ourselves on a gentle upslope that went on for miles. We were surrounded by Joshua Trees, rocks, and sand for as far as we could see. The sun poked out from what had been a mercifully cloudy sky, and we began to feel its full effects as the Mojave passed beneath us with each footfall.  We both tucked bandanas under our hats to hang over our necks to keep from getting too burned. This section between Ryan and the Geology Tour dirt road was psychically difficult. Because of the immensity of our surroundings, it felt as if we were making no progress.

When we finally arrived at Geology Tour, we paused to again apply sunblock and to take in some calories. The short stop, for me, marked the final jumping off point for the rest of the run. Chris and I took off with much-improved outlooks. A few miles later as we ran for a bit on a downhill section in the direction of the Colorado Desert, I began to have pretty bad pains in my quads. Each foot strike hurt. It slowed us down a bit as I requested that we stop for a brief period in order to stretch. I also determined that the pain was simply a good amount of lactic acid build-up and that I could run through it with little fear of sustaining any real injury. We ran toward our final road crossing near Belle Campground and then turned west following the trail in the direction of the park's North entrance.

The last several miles hurt. I was able to push the lactic acid build-up just far enough down that we would walk about a quarter mile and then run three quarters. We knew we would finish. But even so, I was being pretty careful to not finish the last drops of my water in case we might need it for some reason over the last couple of miles. Then, as we had once before, we encountered trail angel water. There were four jugs of water that had all been consumed to some degree sitting by a fence. Figuring that the water was safe (not something I'd always recommend), we both filled up and drank up. That little boost toward the end of the run really lightened my spirit which had begun to sink a bit as I concentrated on my legs.

We finished the run with a final stop to look at a beautiful horned toad about 100 yards from the finish. Jack (a true trooper and trail angel in his own right), greeted us with beer, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water, and cans of LaCroix. We spent some minutes letting it all sink in as we sat and drank on boulders next to his Subaru. Then we drove into town to grab some food for supper, but not before heading back into the park to pick up the empties from our water stash. Leave no trace.

Equipment -

Each of us had a hydration vest with a 2 liter bladder and 2 12-16 oz bottles. We refilled these at the halfway point. 2 of us used UD Scott Jurek Vests and one used a Nathan vest. All worked perfectly.

We wore - Hats (coincidentally, all by Patagonia), sunglasses, bandanas, tech Ts, running shorts, Feetures and Injinji socks, and 2 of us wore Nike Kiger 3s and one wore Altra Lone Peak shoes.

Misc products also used - Skratch Labs Hydration mix, Garden of Life Raw Meal, Trace Minerals Endure, Chia seed and raw lemons.

GPS - Garmin Forerunner 210 and Phoenix

Food each of us carried -
4-5 protein or nutrition bars, dehydrated fruit and nut mix, 3-4 gel packs (only 1 was used by each of us). Salt capsules - consumed 5 during the run.

Also carried - medical tape, 2 small bandages, BodyGlide.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Training for Joshua Tree Traverse

When my buddies, Chris and Jack, agreed to do something epic this year, I knew there would be training involved. I had thrown out the choice of taking a month (or two) off and biking the Continental Divide Trail from Canada to Mexico. Or, we could maybe look at running rim to rim at the Grand Canyon. Both seemed challenging with real possibility of injury and/or failure in either training or execution. Jack, looking at the two choices, threw out third option; why not do the Grand Canyon, but run rim to rim to rim? That would entail an out and back with about 10,000 ft of elevation change over a distance between 42 and 46 miles (depending on the trail).

I don't know why, but all three of us loved that option. We began training, Chris and me in Kansas, and Jack in southern California. In January we met and drove to Joshua Tree to get a run in in the high desert. The 16 mile run we chose was an out and back with a solid (read soul-sucking) single track climb that needed to be surmounted outbound and inbound. I had been having serious calf issues, and had only felt semi-confident to tackle something like that a few days before.

But it worked out. The run was challenging and beautiful. When we finished, however, we were confronted with the reality that the Grand Canyon run probably would have similar difficult terrain, but also 3 times as long. That was pretty sobering. From our text and email follow-ups, I know that we were all getting a bit intimidated thinking of the Canyon.

Upon our return to Kansas, I upped my game and began to run 20 miles on trails once a week. I had one bad experience where I hit the wall. . .  hard. I have only had that happen once before. This instance really sucked and took me some hours of recovery. Four days later though I was back on the trail knocking out the same 20 miles. And I did it again a couple more times the following week - even reverse-splitting the back half on one of the routes.

I have one short trip planned for Joshua Tree before mid-March when our prep run, the Joshua Tree Traverse - a 37 mile run across the upper part of the park - will take place. The traverse will give us an idea (very roughly) of how we might do in the Grand Canyon in April.

For me, the past several weeks of cranking out long runs have served to boost my confidence. When I hit the wall, I took a pause to really examine what I had been doing that might have caused that to occur. Subsequently, I increased my food intake on the run twofold and added a larger load of electrolytes and trace minerals into my fluids. Those changes have seemed to work well.

For me, the longer distances are not simply a way to build up endurance. They serve to expose weaknesses and issues both with equipment and physiology. While completing long runs is a guarantee-free endeavor, having worked out as many bugs and identified as many potential issues as possible while training can only serve to better one's chances of completing the goal that has been set.

I'll post a bit more once we're closer to the traverse.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Weathering Winter Weather in Kansas

Nothing beats running in shorts and a long sleeve shirt on Christmas Day in Lawrence, Kansas. It was 45F when I took off. 8.2 miles later, it was over 50F. Soon it will be in the 60s. Sometimes Kansas is fantastic in winter.

And yet, Saturday (yesterday) found me running in tights, gloves, 2 shirts, a cap, and a heavy-duty hoodie tied into a tight circle around my face. It was 23F when we started. Heavy fog made everything seem even colder.

And yet still, 4 of the 5 runs prior to Saturday were done on a treadmill in my basement because last week had a whole lot of single digit weather. But Wednesday (last Wednesday, that is), it was nice enough, in the middle of the terrible stretch of cold, to knock out 7.5 trail miles.

Ah, Kansas. What a freaky place for weather.