Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grand Canyon Double Crossing

On Friday, March 27, Chris and I did the double crossing of the Big Ditch, 45 miles and a bunch of elevation gain & loss. Hereafter is the newbie's R2R2R report, in Chris-Speak:

The carburetor had been flushed, working with a stronger fuel to oxygen blend, the training wheels were put aside, we’d taken a couple practice laps to test out the refurbished machinery, so it seemed only fitting to see what the parts would do on a real course – Rim2Rim2Rim. Question was, would the existing parts work well enough with the overhauled to call the day (OK, dark2dark trek, with the larger question being how much darkness on the back end) a success? With some parts somewhat in doubt – hey, at 60, one doesn’t take THAT much for granted, and while I’m too far removed from Methuselah’s 900+ years (how DID he feel at 759, anyway?), relativity of truth plays strongly when one pursues optimism – Sue and I separately guessed 18-20 hours not beyond reasonable expectations. Personally, I was dreaming of 13 hours, just to surprise the hell out of myself. No surprises, of course, but what dream doesn’t come without ‘em?
Checking in at Bright Angel lodge the night before, the only doofus in shorts and Hawaiian shirt – weather forecast posted on the wall: high of 42, low of mid-20’s – blended in like a mauve ballroom gown amid an NRA convention of cami gun-toters. Sue commented later that REI could make a bundle, even with sacrificing 25 cents on the dollar for location rights, selling to the assembled throngs just itching to prove that hiking fashion does equate to trail savvy and survivability. Me, I had my 15 year old bladder vest (tan) that snapped at both sides (making the wearing of same at least a 5 person negotiation of manipulating fingers); almost matching rust Patagucci wool undershirt, the sleeves of which garbled around my wrist like the neck of a shar-pei, but proved oh-so soft when wiping my nose during the trek; lime green Patagucci silkweight LS shirt that screamed to any lurking mountain lion “don’t risk it, hot rod, you’ll only get gut-wrenching indigestion!”; sky-bluish base color, yellowish and red striped 20 year old New Balance running tights, the elastic of which had long ago passed its prime (see Methuselah above), with the drawstring about as useful as four handles on a shot glass, but provided ample opportunity throughout the next day for getting upper body work hitching the fabric back over my progressively more achingly stretched-out butt cheeks.
So, in bed too late (after surfing TV channels that looked like a random progression – how does C-Span precede ABC when starting from “2,” when at home they’re at least 75 channels apart?), up too damn early (“it’s happy hour somewhere” didn’t quite cut it as logic pattern), it’s butt cold outside, room service forgot to bring our freshly brewed coffee and poached eggs on whole wheat toast. What an outrage!! Good news was, we could blitz from the lodge to S. Kaibab trail without even slowing down for each stop sign along the way. Woo-HOO!! what mavericks!!
OK, the “run”… Dark when we started, ahead of the mules (likely enjoying their coffee in bed…), made it down to the potties just in time for a deposit (ain’t it weird how the soft rush of air from below almost soothes and ignores the other wafting from that nether darkness?), then continuing down under a starlit sky that refused to relinquish space for the sun. But push in it did, and the visually higher horizon broke into a dimly gray horizontal pencil line. Later, about 15 minutes from the river, we pocketed our lights, and cruised (cruised?) into Phantom Ranch with only a handful of overnight guests showing some sign of life (they, too, thrilling over freshly brewed coffee delivered to each tent flap – they and the mules just tick me off!!). Not having had the pleasure of poached eggs, we instead savored the unlikely but most welcome flavor of previous-day-cooked 3 cheese tortellini and vegetable potstickers. Yum-O!! (Truly, they were, and Sue’s brainchild culinary creativity just set a new standard for on-trail delights.) Pack the cold temp clothes, fill up with water, and we’re off up the canyon, first through the tight walls and four bridges of The Box, the canyon soon widening as we approached Ribbon Falls. (From Phantom, aside from 3 people at Cottonwood campground, we saw not a soul again until below Cottonwood on our return trip from the North Rim. Oh, such delicious solitude!!)
I’d purposely not asked Sue about how much time we were consuming, relying mostly on the slowly rising sun to gauge relative progress. As long as the yellow ball stayed hidden behind high walls, I presumed we were still early in the day. Our general target – again, separately anticipated but not yet vocalized – was 3:30 back to Phantom, where we could at least decide then on whether or not to enjoy a beer, rather than have the decision made for us because the camp host had to retreat to the kitchen to prepare for the next morning’s menu of poached eggs on whole wheat toast and freshly brewed coffee… Fortunately, that deadline seemed many hours away, so we continued our rubber-necking-to-take-it-all-in ambling up the now long, shallow canyon.

From the South Rim looking into the Bright Angel canyon – see, I’m confused, too, cuz I thought Bright Angel was only on the South Rim, not the whole length of visual territory on the other side behind Phantom Ranch – I’d always assumed one just continued straight up that long chute until one gradually ascended to the rim. Which one can do, though one is no longer on the named North Kaibab Trail. Amazing what a detailed, dotted trail map reveals. So, we hang a left across a bridge onto Roaring Spring Canyon and the North Kaibab Trail; take another short break to grab more water; then about 10 minutes later turn a broader corner to view water gushing out of the side of the mountain. From across the canyon, it certainly looked like some dudes had corked the mountain and framed their work in blending color concrete. The trail placard only told us what rock formations we were transitioning through, not why water was spewing from the rock wall a thousand feet up and cascading toward the canyon floor. So, where’s this nifty Roaring Springs, huh? That question unanswered, we continued, let’s see… oh, yes, up, but now on trail much narrower and showing off near vertical drops farther down than I cared to hang my head over the edge to gauge and wheeze about.
Of course, as with any other Big Ditch hiking in the vertical, the millennial formations only continued to fascinate. Some rock carved (as John McPhee wrote, though certainly not his words alone, by “wind and water…”) horizontally, some more vertically, much twisted, most in varying hues of the same base, each layer begrudgingly yielding its personality to the kid next door. A couple spots where last night’s freeze draped icicles over ledges, the warming day scurrying water below the icy shield, clear drops arcing earthward in the light breeze, splattering on ice-laced rocks inviting an unwary step. We skirted wide around one ice fall, and hugged the wall as we inched behind another farther up (that same one reduced to mere water when we passed that spot in early afternoon’s direct sunlight). Images such as these bombarding us; or rather, we discovering them for every 1/10th of a mile consumed by our shoes.

As we neared the North Rim, shaded areas revealed lingering snow mounds, yielding previous hikers’ footsteps. At the Rim itself, snow spread equably around us. We gathered in the glistening, posed for our self-portrait, and began our descent to the canyon floor, in this reverse direction continuing to unveil still more wondrous natural sculpting. One diversion on the return – we ventured toward Ribbon Falls, to avoid that silly (and pointless) up and down on the main trail, which resulted in having to cross the Bright Angel Creek at just shy of knee depth. Thank you, Drymax Bob, for a product that let me ignore my feet for several more miles, despite the creek soaking!!
We missed beer call at Phantom, and we weren’t even that close. (They were probably down to just Bud Light anyway…) So, finishing off the last of the potstickers and chasing with a Snickers – can you imagine drinking a beer with that combo? – we pushed onward, thinking we were racing sunlight that really didn’t give a flying burrito about our progress. But by moving determinedly, the slowly fading light still yielded an evening’s soft view of Garden Creek’s Spring growth, most noticeably red bud trees exploding their blossoms before the green of their leaves. Breath taking, simply breath taking.

One last fill up at Indian Garden, a few campers to ignore, a few deer to greet as we exited the camp, and we stretched toward the South Rim, making it about half a mile shy of the 1.5 Mile mark before finally, reluctantly donning headlamps. These beaming light different eyes returned yet another set farther up the trail. Between flat rocks of a manmade wall, two tiny, almost pinpoint eyes mirrored our lights. Pausing only to say “Hi, Herb, give our best to the wife and kids…” we tried to increase our tempo to reach the Rim, a couple lights from above signaling our proximity to the Finish Line.
Once cresting, we excitedly, tho almost totally drained, walked to our cabin less than a football field distance away. Opening the door and feeling the room’s warmth, sandstone powder shoes were the first to dirty the floor, other clothes soon piling in a corner as we now focused on our primary target, this one finding voice early in the day – shower, put on clean clothes, and get to the bar to get a burger before the kitchen closed. Sitting in the bar, while some crusty baby boomer with reverse beret and gray beard entertained himself as cover for entertaining a handful of non-REI-gear-glittered patrons sat nearby, we savored our beer, found the burger adequate for the occasion, and high fived each other more than a couple times. Yeah, I think Methuselah probably did feel OK at 759…

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Uncomformity... of a different kind

(Yes, the tights were trashed -- and I mean left-in-the-garbage trashed -- at Bright Angel Lodge upon our completion.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sabbitical over... for now anyway!

Executive summary of what I've been up to the past few months:

September: Spent a week in Utah and Idaho climbing their high points, Kings and Borah, both nice peaks, a bit of fun scrambling on Borah's Chicken Out Ridge. A few days later flew to Minneapolis on a work trip (why yes, I DID visit the Mall of America) and squeezed in a drive waaay up north to hike Eagle Mountain, MN's HP. (Four to go now!) From there it was on to Vermont for a couple of weeks to visit family & friends amidst the fabulous annual foliage display and where, on a bit of a whim, I decided to do my favorite 50 miler, the VT50, for the 13th time. Considering the lack of real training, I was happy enough to eke out a 9:19, good enough for 5th woman and first master chick. This was my one and only ultra race of 2008!

October: A few days on either end of a work trip to Gallup, New Mexico allowed us to visit the Grand Canyon, where I did my second R2R2R run, also the spectacular Canyon de Chelly and Petrified Forest National Park of northeastern Arizona. Canyon de Chelly is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited, kind of like Zion National Park but with only a tiny fraction of the tourists. With the exception of one trail, because it is on Navajo land, visitors must be accompanied by a guide in order to enter the canyon. Otherwise, they are relegated to the rim overlooks, which are nothing less than stunning. It was fun trying to pick out the various cliff dwellings with the aid of binoculars. We visited every single overlook! Gallup had some fine running & hiking trails (Gallop? who knew??), including Pyramid & Church Rocks, the High Desert Trails system, and an area a few miles outside of town known as McGaffey, with excellent singletrack and signed junctions. A special treat was spending the weekend in Silverton, Colorado, and getting in some great hikes/runs, both on and off the Hardrock course. We were treated to sightings of a fox at Island Lake and a bald eagle near the Continental Divide at Highland Mary Lakes!

November: Finally climbed Telescope and Wildrose Peaks, along with Corkscrew and Towne Pass Peaks, on a weeklong trip to Death Valley. My appreciation and fondness for Death Valley grow with each visit. It really is a spectacular place. I loved the trail to Telescope Peak (very runnable!), and stargazing/car camping in the Honda Element was the balls. :)

December: Back to Vermont for the holidays, where we were treated to snowstorms, ice, rain, subzero temps, an ice-encrusted car, layers upon layers of clothing, boots... criminelly! All the conditions that reminded me why a mediterranean climate--that would be southern California--is such a treat in wintertime. The trip was a good one, though: spent my b'day cross country skiing for the first time in about 3 years (I LOVE to ski!) and climbed/snowshoed/cramponed up some of my old New Hampshire 4000 footers.

January: Back to CA, on the way finishing off the Ouachita Trail in Arkansas. This was the trail I attempted to thru-hike/backpack last March but got weathered out in a freak snowstorm on Day #3 after completing only 50 of the 222 miles, basically the Oklahoma portion (yes, OK really does have mountains). Huge thanks to Chris, I was able to "run" the remaining 170 miles of the trail to Little Rock carrying only a light pack, doing a relatively easy 30-35 miles/day, none of it in the dark. With one planned 30-mile day to go, a nasty bout with food poisoning--I think from peanut butter crackers... grr!--slowed my progress to a 20, then a 10 miler. But hey, now I know I can fast walk 20 miles on one 20 oz. bottle of plain water, one gel, and one popsicle. (O_O) The OT is a lightly used, "wildernessy" long-distance trail. I saw only one backpacker and a handful of dayhikers in the 6 days I was out there. Curiously, there is also very little wildlife--few squirrels even. I did almost step on an armadillo, and we saw a bobcat one day. Arkansas has some great trails; I want to do the Ozark Highlands Trail (165 miles) one of these days as well.

February: Work trip to San Francisco, with runs in the Marin Headlands, including a Double Dipsea, after finally locating The stairs in Mill Valley. :) Also ran in the Presidio and Golden Gate Parks and across the Golden Gate Bridge. (Yes, I am a touron.) What a fun city! A few days later we were in Austin, Texas, on another work trip running around Lady Bird Lake with hundreds of Austinites. Alas, no Lance/McConaughey sightings. Probably could've been a bit more creative with dining, but got sort of infatuated with Whole Foods--THE Whole Foods of Whole Foods--they are headquartered in Austin. Yum-O! Which brings us to...

March: Uncharacteristically spent the past 5 weeks back in Ventura County, first and foremost helping to prepare for and execute Chris's Coyote Two Moon. For whatever reason, it seemed as though this year's events required a lot more energy... and there seemed to be more rooms in the house filled with C2M stuff--shirts, jackets, hats, "prizes," etc. But in the end, this year's events appeared to run more smoothly than last. The start/finish at Ojai's Thacher School worked out better, the pre-and post-race meals (mimosa anyone?) were very good, and C2M has the absolute BEST group of volunteers an RD could ever hope for. Shameless plug: C2M is a truly unique ultrarunning venue, with events spanning 6 days, including mini-golf, bowling, "talent" night, BBQ, beer drinking, and runs in Pt. Mugu State Park, including one under the full moon. Participation in these pre-run events, along with sucking up to the RD, and/or generally being a nice person, is rewarded with "bonus minutes" which are subtracted from the run time. If a runner acts like a bonehead, is rude, or bull$hits the RD or volunteers, they get "boner minutes" which are added to their run time. (As a result of this juggling of numbers, some of the more serious or competitive runners may have a harder time with this concept.) Also unique to C2M is the staggered start, whereby the slower runners get to start first--and get first dibs on the all the aid station goodies!--the idea being that runners get to see more people toward the end of the event and everyone finishes "together" within a 4-hour window, in time for Sunday brunch and previously mentioned mimosas. :) Finally, entrants can expect to receive numerous pre-event emails from the RD, virtual "novellas", as one disgruntled, "serious" runner labeled them. It's all part of this one-of-a-kind event! If you're a fun-loving, open-minded sort of ultrarunner in search of a kick-ass 100 miler with 28,000+ ft. of elevation gain (19,000 for the 100km) for 2010, check out the website here . BTW, one of the best C2M "reports" I've read--possibly my favorite race report ever--is here, 13th post. Look for a bunch of emoticons. ;-)

That brings this blog up to date, sort of. I stopped blogging in September mostly because I wanted to spend less time online and had always had issues with the quasi (is that the right word?) narcissism of blogging. However (!)... I am getting SO bad about emailing and keeping in touch with folks, AND have had many people ask about it and tell me they enjoyed reading my blog (hey, you guys need to get a life! Heehee), so here's at it once more...!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009