Monday, June 15, 2015

Saying YES to Fear: why I won't be running Bighorn

I've been struggling with a very hard decision the past few days. The decision? To run Bighorn 100 as planned and get my Hardrock qualifier (the only reason I signed up for it earlier this year although I hear it's very beautiful and tough - more good reasons!) OR go for the Fastest Known Time on the Tahoe Rim Trail (170 miles). 

The only DNF I've ever regretted wasn't even in a race. It was stopping at mile 108 in my attempt to set the FKT on the TRT in July 2013. I'd prepared all that spring to crush the TRT and quitting mid-run meant I'd come back stronger mentally and physically but it hurt so bad to stop before I had finished that I knew right away I had made a mistake. I had picked the hottest weekend all year (I was melting on Mt Rose at mile 100 in 95 F temps) and then I let personal issues get to me mentally. I wanted to complete the TRT so much, I went into a 2 month long funk after quitting and kept looking at my calendar hoping to go back right away and get the monkey off my back. 

I left my house yesterday still not knowing what direction I would go: would I take the I-90 east toward Wyoming (run Bighorn) when I hit Seattle or continue South to Tahoe (for a FKT on TRT)? If I'd been someone with a more "normal" schedule I might have been able to fit the TRT in later in the year and still run Bighorn however my race directing/trail work/family duties meant that it was not very likely I could fit it in later. 

A calmness overtook my anxious mind as I was driving, just 1 mile before I-90 exit when a Chevy Tahoe turned in front of me and somehow I knew that I wanted the scarier, the less predictable, the tougher TRT attempt. I felt a responsibility to complete the Bighorn race this Friday, but I also felt a responsibility, a greater one, to complete my unfinished business at Tahoe. 

I have been fastpacking all spring scouting for my Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run and the Arizona 200. I finished 5th in 37hrs and change at the ultra tough Ultra  Fiord in April. I think my training has been on spot to tackle either race or long FKT, but especially on spot for the TRT FKT. The rivers are flowing and the temperatures are low enough at Tahoe now. It's time. Later in the summer with the lack of snow at Tahoe and the higher temps, an unsupported run would be incredibly difficult. So here goes....

I'll run the route unsupported from Tahoe City counterclockwise carrying everything I need for the entire 170 miles. I will try for the women's supported record and the overall unsupported records: Amber Monforte has the women's supported FKT, 49h17m, September 5-7, 2014.
JB Benna has the unsupported FKT, 58h43m12s, September 29 - October 1, 2013. I'm not sure if I can beat Amber's excellent supported record while running unsupported, but the idea intrigues me and that's all I need to attempt to get sub-49.

Whether or not I am able to get the supported/unsupported records I will finish this route. I will do it for the experience, for a respite from daily life and to connect with what really matters to me: I will give my energy in the mountains and I will receive it back, cleansed. 

I start Friday. 
Running the TRT 100 mile in July 2012. The start of my obsession with the mountains around Tahoe. And yes that's a plaid visor. Boo yah. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Life on the Road

I'm back on the road again. It's my 4th trip in 5 months. Last year I calculated that I was out of town 5 months of the year. That's either for directing races, scouting courses, or racing 100s. It makes for a busy and unpredictable life, but I wouldn't have it any other way. When I travel I feel alive and free in a way I don't feel any other time except running.
Road trip essentials
I'm en route from Washington to Arizona currently, at this exact moment I am near Bryce canyon National Park, headed to the Grand Canyon. I began the trip with some work scouting aid locations for the Bigfoot 200 & meeting with Forest Service, celebrating Mother's Day with my mom and kids in Eastern Washington then leaving for Arizona. The Arizona portion of the trip consists of crewing and pacing a coaching client/friend at his first 100 miler this weekend and then scouting out the Arizona 200 course.

I was unable to get much scouting done last time I was in AZ, so I'm excited to see the trails on this trip. Afterward, I head home to direct the Deception Pass Marathon & Half in early June... then run the Bighorn 100 in mid-June...then work party for the Bigfoot 200 at Mt. Adams in late June... then to Colorado for the Colorado 200 (racing, woohoo!) in July... then to Mt. St. Helens to direct the first annual Bigfoot 200 ... then to Tahoe in late August/Sept to direct the Tahoe 200... and on and on and on.

Luckily this year I have hired a few extra people and I am excited to be handing off more of the business work for my own sanity and because Destination Trail LLC is GROWING! Yay!!

Here are some pics from my trip so far.
River gets the welcome she deserves at a hotel in Hood River. We stayed the night to get some work done (we, meaning "me". River managed to chew up the stuffed porcupine the hotel gave her and convince me every 30 mins that she needed to pee (nope just trying to get pet by one of the many late night brewery goers...). She's a bit social you might say.
View of mt. St. Helen's from near one of the Bigfoot 200 aid stations
River trying to sleep in the car. She's my RD sidekick, but mostly she keeps me entertained (see pic above) and takes me on walks.
Finally got my license plate on my "new" not so new car. 
Marina and Stella on a sage picking expedition on Mother's Day
I may be road tripping, but I always bring lots of fresh food. I've learned not to bring any "unhealthy" foods or I will eat them, so I stock the car with apples, almonds, salad mix, canned fish/chicken, kombucha, fresh squeezed juice (if I can get to a whole foods), plantain chips, balsamic vinegar, instant miso, and lots of coffee. lots. tons. 
getting excited about a run! I always find secluded back roads to camp on, this was one I visited on my last trip to AZ (it's in OR) and wanted to explore. Lookout Mountain
The vehicle setup, for car camping and outdoor fun
This is my record, 41 miles with the gas light on. Pretty worried I was going to have to run to the next gas station. Made it, amazingly.
Running in Idaho from another awesome spot I camped at. I've become quite the expert at finding semi-legal (secluded) camping spots.
Running in Idaho. I try to run everyday. I begin the morning with coffee and core exercises then run, then drive...
Like to see these signs... unless I need to drive through there :) 
More road tripping essentials
More road tripping food: tuna, spicy nut mix, avocado and truffle infused balsamic vinegar
When I need to shower (or want to) I use my 7gal water dispenser. It only takes 1-2 gals to wash the hair and essentials.
Another travel essential: WAZE, it can tell you when cops are present. I like that very much. 
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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shaking the Sand Off the Blanket for the Bigfoot 200

My job this week: 4x4 rally car driver "The High Priestess" aka "Lost Trail Runner" strikes again in the Gifford Pinchot

This week I have the pleasure of doing some on-site Bigfoot work. As the event nears, we are nailing down exact locations for the aid stations. This is a first-year thing for sure. In its inaugural year, every race has to shake the sand off the blanket. This year we had to reroute a portion, adding some seriously amazing ridge views and trails, but also relocating aid. This trip consists of visiting each site, and determining the best location for aid. I'm looking for plenty of parking, large opening (in the forests), and as easy of access by vehicle as possible, a bit of a challenge in this remote section of the Cascade Mountains in Washington.

Each stretch of road on the way to each aid location was recorded for drivability (4WD, 2WD, mud, rocks, holes) and distance (from key intersections or land markings. After all, we want to make sure that crew and aid workers can get to each location following these instructions. Tomorrow I have a meeting with the Forest Service to confirm these locations. Then back home by Friday and leave for California and Arizona on Monday ~~ whirlwind ~~

My, foot, River's print (center) and a BIG print (right)!!

Managing to collect enough soil for a garden in the driver's side
Travel Pals
One of the future aid station locations, Chain of Lakes Campground

Just when I got out of the car for my constant state tempo repeats it began snowing! Was fun, but being 2 hours away from real roads, worrying that I would get stuck in the snow.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Romance in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

I ended up in the camping building of a Refugio in Chile at the witching hour with a group of ten men all of whom could speak English, but with varying accents, five empty boxed wine cartons and half a bottle of Cabernet had as much to do with the flooding and storms that created a red alert in the Torres del Paine Park as it did with boisterous energy that flooded the lodge. The Japanese contingent singing "Rainbow" (complete with arm waving and swaying) and the wine... it was only a matter of time before we were kicked out of the main building, downgraded to the camp building.
Refugio Cuernos from Visit Chile
"Would you rather have fingers as long as your legs or legs as long as your fingers?" The Bearded Joker asked, glancing at his phone to read from some sort of list of "Would You Rather" questions. He was from New York and seemed comfortable taking on the entertaining role in the group. This was a series of non stop questions that Bearded Joker kept tossing out into the crowd, his captive audience, and we kept answering. After all, what else did we have to do while sipping boxed wine, stuck in a Refugio Los Cuernos, a Lodge on the W circuit, while hiking the park? We had all been caught in what Stjepan Pavicic would later tell me was the biggest rain storm in 10 years, and he'd know, he grew up in the region and worked as a mountaineer, expedition leader and race director.
On the podium for the Ultra Fiord 108mi/173K
If anything I land on the ambitious side of everything, always thinking I can squeeze one more experience out of an already flooded life. In this case ambition meant a hike/run of the 140K "O" Circuit in the stunning Torres del Paine Park a few days after finishing the ultra tough Ultra Fiord 173K/108 mi trail race. The Ultra Fiord ended up being an ordeal that lasted 37+ hours complete with wet feet, near hypothermia, puma encounters, constant rain and endless thigh deep mud. I had planned my trip for an entire 3 weeks so that I could have this extra week to play on the trails, so 'race fatigue' or not I was going exploring! Little did I know the rain, fatigue and storms would continue to follow me on this adventure as well.
The not-so-waterproof-waterproof jacket, Day 1
Would you rather be 4'5" or 7'7"?" The Bearded Joker asked. Furrowed brows all around the room. Hmmm. 4'5", the women answered. 7'7", the men answered. Apparently when it comes to sticking out, we prefer our gender roles. I wondered what Megan at 6'4" inches tall would say. She had run the 70k at the Ultra Fiord and had immediately recognized me upon entering the Refugio. She also had come out to the park to hike the O Circuit, now turning out to be more of an "L" with all the trails getting closed down. I glanced over at her, but she was in the corner reading a book, unaware of the height discussion at the next table.
Tall Megan and Aussie Doc
The workers at the lodge merely had to turn off all lights to send the more meek to bed and the more adventurous out to the camping building. The camping building was a place for hikers who were camping to dry their equipment, eat, and hang out and was a way to separate the people who paid for lodging from the people who were only paying to pitch a tent. One of the cool things about the Torres del Paine park is that you can just hike from lodge to lodge free from carrying any camping gear, if you were willing to pay for a bunk.
The wind and weather were beyond intense!

The last thing I wanted was more mud after the Ultra Fiord's 50k of mud...
It wasn't news to us that a big storm had been flooding the park, most of us had been miserably slogging through it for the past few days fighting hypothermia while completely wet to the bone. Many of the trails in the park had closed due to the flooding as rivers became impassable. The real news was that the buses weren't servicing the park anymore, cancelled by floods that had closed down roads into the park. We were stuck in the park (all of us had arrived via bus) for the time being and we had no idea how long it would last. So we partied and before long, the refugio was out of wine.
One of the veryflooded rivers on the way to Refugio Cuernos
"Would you rather run a 100 miles an hour or fly at 10 miles per hour?" The Bearded Joker asked in the camping building, he was still going strong even after drinking his fair share of the boxed wine.

"Hey don't wake up Luis!" Dublin said to me with urgency as I was about to move two chairs with a blanket over them, making space for the group at a picnic table. It looked like a kid's fort right in the middle of the building. Dublin was an Irishman of about 26 years old with a sense of humor that could be counted on at every turn.

"Oh! Sorry, I didn't realize--" I stumbled, surprised, feeling bad for possibly waking up the guy who was sleeping under the chairs in his made-up tent. Then I saw Dublin barely containing a smile as his joke became clear, "Hey! There's no one under there you shithead!" We all laughed. I could hold my own with the boys, that much was for sure.

My trip to Torres del Paine began with an early morning bus ticket to the park. Buses were the most popular mode of transport in and out of the park as many of the visitors came from around the world to see this famously beautiful park, it's massive column like towering mountains, the glaciers, and the world class trails that circled the park in either an "O" Shape or a "W" shape, the W being the shortest of the two routes. It was a hiker /trail runner paradise.

The rain began thundering down before I even climbed out of my bed at the Amerindia Hostel that morning and continued through day one and day two. I started my trek at the Administration building in the South of the park and hiked/ran 18k to the first Refugio (lodge) through 50+ mph winds and driving rain. I stopped briefly at the Refugio for a cup of coffee and sandwich and continued on toward Refugio Grey, another 11km North. My spirits were soaring high on that strong wind, I was excited to be running free in the park, adventure here I come! I sang to my ipod songs, leaned into the wind and imagined I was an eagle on a powerful ride. Or maybe a fish in the ocean with all this water which was creating some serious streams in the trail.
Refugio Paine Grande, 18 km into the route. Yes the water is incredibly blue but it is cold as fuck. 

Right away I could feel my achilles was still very sore from the race. I've had achilles pain from overtraining/racing before and I had a good idea that I could hike through the pain, afterall, when do you get a chance to run an incredible race AND hike a long route in Chile's most famous park?! The driving rain soon exposed my rain jacket's lack of waterproof abilities. Shit, I should've waterproofed it again before this trip, but it was too late. There was no going back and certainly no time machine for the unprepared. I knew I could handle anything this trip threw at me but it might be a long 4-5 days if it kept raining with this intensity!
Refugio Grey in all its glory!!!
Refugio Grey is nestled in trees colored by autumn: with red, orange, yellow and every hue between them this time of year. If you have the luck of a clear day to see it as you arrive from the South, you will notice it sits just under a massive glacier. A stunning and wild backdrop for this backcountry lodge. As I arrived I struggled between my decision to camp (I brought a tent) and a desire to get a bunk bed for the night. I was completely soaked and getting a bed indoors would mean I could at least attempt to dry my very wet clothes and gear. Bed it was. I also purchased a dinner, which was a three course meal (extra for wine or beer) and I settled at a table with other travelers, all of whom spoke English- a common theme on the trail. When the group heard about my race 173K??!! they had a million questions and I regretted telling them I had done it at all as I was asked about training, the race, recovery, and more.
The glacier

Stark, cold, fall colors
The next day I set out for French Valley hoping to have time to do 25-30 miles. Today was expected to rain much harder then the pervious day, something I seriously doubted was possible. It was. I was able to run most of the way from Refugio Grey to the Refugio Paine Grande, then started heading East on what would prove to be the coldest and wettest of all the sections. Rivers were overflowing, spilling onto the trail and making the trail one gigantic waterslide. the water flow was so strong, it was as though someone had unkinked a hose and all the pressure was shooting down the trail. Rocks, debris, and even I was swept down the trail, only to have to ford uphill against the current around the next corner.
One of the tamer river-trails
The water coming from the streams was ice bucket cold. My feet ached with the pain of temperature change, but mostly with the cold. Just when they might begin to feel warm again, briefly, I'd have to wade thigh high through another stream, or find the trail that had been washed out and hidden by all the water. Everything just looked like another stream.
Streams heavy with extreme rainfall
After hours of trekking through the water following the trail, I finally came upon the final Refugio Los Cuernos where we would all be stuck for the night by the massive flooding. I paid for a bunk, showered without soap and dried off without a towel, redressed without socks or shoes (still wet) and laid all my wet gear and clothing out by the fire to (hopefully) dry a bit by morning.

By the time dinner was over I'd was already undefeated at a sort of "war"-esque card game I'd just learned that included slapping matches and matches that were sandwiched between cards but mostly meant slapping each other's hands. the guide who taught me the game was chubby in a athletic way with dreads and an intense and careful smile. Dreads did not like losing to me but as she put it, she's learned to be a good sport. I wasn't sure what that would've meant for me if I'd played her previous to this change in attitude, but I was glad for it nonetheless.

Some floating ice from the glacier above Refugio Grey
By morning the sunshine was out quite amazingly and a group of us was sitting around a table enjoying a large breakfast and instant coffee, hungover enough that our brains were in slo-mo. Dublin joined us, his teeth still purple with wine. I smiled and we playfully picked on each other the rest of breakfast, me of his Irish background (I'm part Irish too) and him on my ability to hang with the guys. Just like in the Ultra Fiord, I was the Last Woman Standing last night, the only girl to stay up late joking and shittalking in the camping shelter.

I made plans to head out to the next camping/bunking location, just 11km East to Hosteria Torres. No one knew if the buses would be running but we all knew that both ends of the W were closed due to bridges being washed out and dangerously high stream crossings. All the closures meant that I would not be able to hike the route, so I planned to take the bus back to Puerto Natales that day, if it was running. As I left the lodge, two women, Tall Megs from Canada and Doctor Aussie, from Australia, were also headed out for the same section. I decided to hang with them for a bit and chat.
Aussie Doc and me
The 11km segment of trail from Refugio Cuernos to Torres was very wet with many stream crossings but the rain had stopped and I even felt the sunshine a few times. I so enjoyed having my girl talk with Aussie & Megs that I was happy to slow my usually fast pace to hang with them. We mostly talked boys and it was fun to see how many similarities the three of us independent women had when it came to dating and lack thereof. Before we knew it we were at Torres, and to our surprise the bus was running!
Views from the trail, Refugio Cuernos to Torres. You might say I'm in love. 
As I settled into my seat, the third day of wet socks and hypothermic feet, I grieved for leaving my new lover--- the mountains of Torres del Paine. I'd just barely been able to explore them, to feel their powerful presence, the towering columns and cold streams that I ran through. Even those short experiences had burned, or rather washed, their shape into my body. I could no longer live without the deep desire to revisit this romance.
Final view of the mountains before returning to Puerto Natales

Fuck yea. 
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