17 February 2015

I bet even the Dalai Lama has a bad day every now & then......

This thought crossed my mind several times on my most recent backpack in Joyce Kilmer - Slickrock Wilderness. 

Well, to be honest, more than several times because I was having a rough time that day. 

The day had started with me & Brian's normal "Where are we backpacking this weekend?" conversation. The weather was kinda iffy & I wanted to bring the mutt with me, so we decided to take the "easy" route to our favorite campsite near the Hangover. The Forest Service routinely closes secondary roads in the winter for resource protection so the shortest (but very steep) trail we normally hike was not accessible. This would be a new trail for me & while it had been a while since he had hiked it, Brian thought it would be a little easier since you start from a  higher elevation. We figured out a potential loop & the trip was on!

We met at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest to drop one vehicle at the lower trailhead & headed up to Maple Springs Overlook to begin on Deep Creek Trail. The weather had improved drastically - lovely blue skies although it was a little cooler than forecast. The trail started out fairly easy despite being uphill. 

I had packed my backpack a little heavier than usual  since I was not sure how cold it was going to be up high & on an overnighter I really like to eat fresh food rather than the typical dehydrated stuff. I figured it wouldn't matter much as my expectation was we were doing very low miles Saturday.

As I trudged along the trail began to get steeper. Then the snow appeared. A lot more snow & ice than I expected & my trusty micro spikes were back in the 'E. This is when my attitude began to slip almost as much as my boots. 

There is a reason that almost every map or guidebook for Joyce Kilmer - Slickrock says to be sure to bring a topo map & compass when on these rugged trails. This area is maintained as a wilderness so there are no blazes & very minimal signage. There is also no correlation between the Nat Geo, USGS Quad & Forest Service maps!

We eventually arrived at our first trail intersection & this is where we had our first doubts of which direction was best. Brian remembered that it was best to go east but my maps showed we needed to go west (turns out one critical connector trail did not show up on my maps). Either trail would get us to our final destination, but as we were moving slowly I was more concerned about time as I really, really, really wanted to see the sunset. I finally (erroneously) convinced Brian to stick with my maps & it was downhill from there. 

Literally downhill.

All the elevation we had gained was quickly lost as the trail descended. And there was so much snow & ice that I was constantly slipping & falling. Then we started hitting the blowdowns that were impossible to crawl though. We were forced to climb up steep sideslopes & I had to slide down the hill on my ass to keep from falling. My mood was getting worse & worse as I could feel a hot spot on my right foot from sliding so much & I was so sick of falling down. I slipped on  one icy spot & my Nalgene came out of my pack & rolled down the hill into the rhodo. I had to crawl down to get it & when I was pulling myself up on the trail the root I was grabbing on pulled completely out & dumped me on my ass again. Sigh. Could this get any worse?

I was falling farther & farther behind Brian & it was driving my dog crazy (she has some herding breed in her & really likes to keep her pack together on trail). I rounded a corner on a sunny ridge & she was tearing back down the trail towards me. I snapped this pic:

And just like that I realized how important (and easy!)  it is to find the joy in just being. I am so lucky to be able to walk,run,hike,backpack & in any manner enjoy this beautiful area I live in. It's really easy for me to get caught up in my expectations (or assumptions) and not notice all the joy around.

I won't say the rest of the climb didn't suck. And that I didn't get to really enjoy the sunset as we were setting up camp late. Or even that the wind blew so hard that night that it bent one of the poles on the tent. But I have a ton of photos of how awesome this weekend was & that's what I want to finish this post with:

Cool little frozen waterfall

Beautiful colors for sunset


My favorite shot this whole trip

Clouds moving in

Hanging out at the Hangover

Dogs are good at finding the joy!

Stay joyful friends!

12 January 2015

I'm an ultrarunner again!

While I had made a New Year’s resolution in 2014 to run another ultra, I somehow ran out of motivation after the Cumberland Gap marathon in June. Maybe because as the 3rd marathon I did in 2014 it was also my hardest & slowest? Or maybe I just got lazy….It had been 3.5 years since I ran my last ultra. Regardless, I needed a kick in the ass for 2015 so I signed up for the Pistol Ultra Runs – specifically the 50k run.

As a self proclaimed pavement-hater, you may wonder why I chose this run. A couple of reasons: It was paved, but it is a greenway so there is always the chance you can run on the grass shoulder. It is a loop (out & back) but that means you can pass close to your car & I really have no trouble with loops. It was over a month before Mt Mitchell Challenge, which fits in my schedule for a long run. Not a lot of elevation gain or loss. And my final chickenshit reason? They also hold a 100k & 100 miler so the cutoff for all races is 30 hours. So yeah, I picked a race I had an above average chance of finishing.

Here’s the thing about running a race: I always have a couple of goals. The ultimate goal is, as usual, just finishing without hurting myself. My secondary goal was to finish in a (for me) respectable time of less than 7 hours. And my “if all the planets align & I feel great” goal was to finish in my Ultrasignup estimated finish time of 6:35. A bit optimistic considering my PR of 5:45 was 12 years & 3 knee surgeries ago.

 I had the usual post race nerves leading up to the run. You know, where you convince yourself that you are getting sick? Or watching the Weather Channel state there is a 80% chance of rain with  severe storms ? I guess since it had been so long since my last ultra I forgot how to ignore that stuff. I also forgot how fun it is to make a “flat runner” the night before by laying out all your clothes & gear.

Just looking at this photo you can already tell I took wayyyyyyy tooooooo much stuff, right?

The not-so-early start was good for me as I was able to have a couple of cups of coffee & take my time getting ready. Brian gave me a ride over to the start & dropped me off with a whole 15 minutes to spare. I had to smile as he has never seen me all dressed up for a race - he told me I ” looked ready for adventure”. As soon as he left I realized it was way warmer than predicted & I was carrying way too much gear (gloves,hat,& raincoat).  I resigned myself to carrying it for at least one 11 mile loop & then dropping some stuff off at the start/finish & hope to be able to find it at the end.

As usual the adrenaline kicked in & I felt like I started a little fast. I was surprised to find the miles were not marked & it was a little hard to pace myself as I am used to running on trails. I also felt very overdressed in a long sleeved top, but was glad I had not brought the wool shirt I had considered. As I reached the turnaround of the halfway point of the 1st loop at Maryville, I was surprised to see Brian standing at the picnic shelter. And so very happy! I ran up to him, pulled my pack off & started unloading all the extra weight I could. He listened to me bitch a bit about how hot it was & then sent me on my way telling me I was doing good. It was a nice little boost!

I followed the greenway back around to the high school, this time taking some time to look around a little. I did not realize how pretty this area was. 

I finished my 1st loop right at 2 hours. A little faster than I expected. But it got me to thinking, maybe I can get a 6:35 finish? I grabbed some food from the friendly volunteers & headed out my second loop. The forecasted rain still didn't  show & I felt hotter & hotter as I along. I was still moving well but was starting to feel a bit weary as I headed to the halfway point. As I rounded the corner in Maryville I again saw Brian at the picnic shelter but it appeared he was wearing magenta scarf. WTF? Did he really bring my wool shirt out to me? As I got closer he held it up & it was the coolest, lightest, short sleeve wicking shirt I have ever seen. And my absolute favorite color! While I was running my 2nd loop my sweetie had gone to Little River outfitter & dug around on the clearance rack to find me a lighter shirt that would help me get thru the race. I ran up to him & immediately stripped off my long sleeved shirt & gave it to him with instructions to burn it. I put on the shirt & it felt (to borrow my friend Lori’s words) like angel wings. I set off with renewed energy again!

At this point I was at my favorite point of a long run – I call it Zenning out. You aren't thinking or feeling – it’s like meditation for me. The miles just passed along. Soon I was almost back to the high school & I see a familiar shape ahead. Brian had not only driven ahead to the intersection of the greenway & MLK park, he also had Starbucks! I am a confirmed caffeine junkie & a couple of sips really hit the spot. Off again to finish loop #2!

This loop was completed in roughly 2:20, but I was still pretty optimistic for the 6:35 finish.  I got a big mental boost crossing the start/finish line since now I was at 22 miles & only had single digits left to run. For some reason that really seems to matter to me.

I shuffled along to the first turn-around  & made my first stop at an aid station to look at food as I was getting tired of Heed & gels. This aid station looked like a frickin’ buffet! I was glad I had not stopped before or I would have surely gained weight on this run. I grabbed half a pimento cheese on wheat & shuffled on.

When I passed Brian again I was starting to feel the miles, but I also knew I didn't have too much longer to go. I asked him to meet me at the bottom of the big hill right at the high school as I knew I would be walking it. Because I did not study the race course I was also unsure if I just finished or if I needed to do one more short out & back before finishing. (I had asked a volunteer at one of the aid stations but she didn't know either) When I got to the bottom of “Heartbreak Hill” I glanced at my time & it was only 6:15. Damn! That means I probably have to do another mile or so…Sigh…. Brian was good at mentally pushing me up the hill. He told me “ I’m not gonna run but I am gonna walk at our normal speed hiking up a hill so try & keep up!” When we got to the top a lady came up behind me & said “Why are you walking? This is the finish!” I told her it couldn't be as my time was way too short, but then I saw the volunteers waving us on. I managed to make at least some semblance of a run, but I was still  so confused. My finish time ended up being 6:17! Way better than I ever imagined!

A few cool things about this race: The RD & the volunteers were just absolutely amazing. Could not ask for anything more. And this was the first time Brian has seen me run distance. I know he worries about me running (I was recovering from knee surgery when I first met him). I think he really enjoyed crewing me & got a better understanding of ultras. I have never really had someone out there I care for supporting me & I didn’t realize what a difference it makes. It really pushed me to try a little harder when every time I saw him he told me I was doing really good! After it was all over I asked him if it scared him off now that he had seen what I like to do & he had spent a day with all the other crazies like me. He said no, but what scared him was he could see how hard it was for me so how was I always smiling while I was doing it? 

31 October 2014

RMNP - V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N!!!!!!!!

Once we decided to take our week of vacation here in Colorado it got very hectic. Since I would not be returning to TN as planned, poor Brian had to go to my house & try to assemble my backpack & hiking gear for me. Luckily I had organized most of the dehydrated food & my gear is limited to being mostly in one closet, but it was still difficult. Its very difficult to try to tell someone everything you think you may need over the phone. As well as where it may be. He did well, although it is a good thing the 'E has so much room!

Brian ended up driving the entire way in one very long day – he arrived very late (or I guess it was really early!) on Sunday. We spent the day in Fort Collins as I wanted him to acclimate a little. Plus I wanted to take him on a few brewery tours & get some good green chile stew before we left! Monday we headed out to RMNP.

We had already decided to car camp the 1st nite in Aspenglen for further acclimation, but we made the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center our first stop to check on backcountry sites. The Ranger was very helpful & asked us to come back at noon as some hikers had not yet picked up their permit for one of the best spots in the Park & they would be available to us if they didn’t show by noon. We waited & sure enough got the permits for the next 3 nites to do a loop at Andrews Creek, Sourdough & Mill Creek. Unfortunately there was a reason these permits became available, but more on that later…..

We decided to spend the rest of the day sightseeing before setting up camp & headed out Trail Ridge Road as I had been no further than Forest Canyon. And I wasn’t going to be an further. See, the beautiful weather I had been enjoying while on detail was over & a major snowstorm was predicted. Trail Ridge was closed due to ice & snow by the time we got to Rainbow Curve & we had to turn around. It was a sign of things to come!

We still got to see a few frosty views along the way:

And elk!

The next day we optimistically started out from Bear Lake by way of Glacier Gorge towards Andrews Tarn Glacier). While the weather called for snow, we were not overly worried as the worst was forecast for Thursday nite & we expected to be a the lowest elevation backcountry site by then.  

After about a mile we (as usual) began to climb. Around mile 3 we started seeing a bit of snow on the ground, but nothing too extreme. 

We came upon the Loch (or Lock Vale), which was a beautiful sub-alpine lake at a little over 10k feet in elevation. 

We continued on & then it started snowing. Not just a few fluffy flakes to catch on your tongue. Really snowing.

After another mile (plus another half mile of backtracking) we found the side trail to Andrews Creek backcountry site. This is where the snow & ice was a little treacherous as we were walking on solid rock covered with ice & snow with no microspikes. Doh!

Finally we found the snow covered Andrews Creek site. I like the way the backcountry sites in RMNP are limited by number of groups instead of number of people. Each group gets a site whether they are one person or 4. We sure had plenty of room!


Then I had to go check out the privy. The Ranger had said it had a great view. 

Not too shabby!

At this point I realized I was really cold & it was really snowing. The tent was being covered with snow & since you can’t have a fire in the backcountry here (because a few dumbasses have set the Park on fire before) I realized I was going to stay cold.

At this point Brian called it: we needed to head back down. Although we had the gear to stay out all nite, we did not have the gear to make it safely down the trail tomorrow if the snow continued. While I was disappointed I admit it was the right call. It felt like giving up but better to not take the chance.

Coming back down I was amazed at how much snow had accumulated since we had passed the Loch.

We came off the trail in the dark but found a cheap hotel room in Estes Park & watched the Weather Channel to plan our next move. Figures there was a record early snow this year!

For the remaining 2 days we decided to just car camp & day hike so we could cover more miles. Trail Ridge Road remained closed our entire vacation but we found plenty to do on teh east side of the Park. We warmed up the 1st day with a summit of Deer Mtn. A just over 10,000 feet, we again hiked into the snow! But enjoyed some great views.

We stayed our 1st nite at Longs Peak CG & it was a bit frosty, but at least we could have a campfire to stay warm! 

Love the reflection in the rear window of the 'E

Despite being the coldest & snowiest day, on Thursday we decided to use the Park shuttle system & hike the Fern Lake – Bear Lake section. As usual, we hiked up into alot of snow!

It was a bit blustery as we passed the Sourdough backcountry site, which is where our original permit had us staying this nite. I wasn't too unhappy at this point that we were car camping! 

We started descending into the Odessa Gorge, which was just amazing. The air was so crisp & clear once the snow stopped.

Eventually we arrived at Odessa Lake – another beautiful subalpine lake:

We continued down & Brian got his first view of Fern Lake:

From here it was an easy hike out – all downhill! I highly recommend the shuttle systems at RMNP as they really make it easy to cover some good trails without having to deal with the parking & traffic issues.

Our last dayhike was to take on a summit of Twin Sisters Peak. Starting out at the trailhead we immediately began to climb as it seems like every trail in the Park does. Lo of switchbacks! Luckily we had the great views of Longs Peak to distract us:

In time we hiked out of the spruce-fir forest & into the krummholz zone. “Krummholz” is a German word meaning twisted wood & is used to describe the stunted growth of trees in the transition from forest to tundra. The trees were eerily beautiful.


Once we got above treeline the views opened up & we started hearing picas calling. We could also see where we were headed:

There are two peaks (hence the name Twin Sisters) & we chose the more popular East Sister as it is the highest at 11,428. There used to be a fire tower up here but all that is left are the concrete footers. The wind was whipping up high but I just had to summit the highest point. Here is my "seated summit" as I had a little too much vertigo to stand up straight! 

It was a clear day & the views of Longs peak were great.

All in all it was a great week & I just can't wait to get back!