Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hello again... from Brrrrmont!

Hello, hello!  A lot has happened since I last blogged over 6 months ago.  Most significantly, Chris and I have begun the next chapter of our lives by happily relocating - for most of the year anyway - back to Vermont.  Our new home is located in the bucolic (really, it is) Northeast Kingdom and is about a 20-minute drive from my folks’ house.  It's nice to be closer to them as well as to once again be living in that bastion of liberalism that is my homestate.  I knew it was time to leave California when that state seemed too conservative - and way too crowded - for me.  :)

Our real estate adventures constituted an emotional roller coaster ride, with the first 2 “buyers” bailing at the last minute and leaving us in a bit of a lurch (see below) - everything was already in storage, our 2 cats were in Vermont with my folks, and we were sort of homeless vagabonds for 3 months (not that we’re unaccustomed to living out of suitcases) -- but in the end it all worked out, and buyer #3 came through. In late September we rented a Penske truck and drove our worldly possessions across the country just in time for peak foliage season here in Vermont.

Our new home is a modified log home originally built in 1973, a fun blend of "rustic meets chic," with add-on living and sun rooms, updated bathrooms and kitchen, and a newer two-car, two-story garage. There are 5 ½ acres of land which is mostly pasture/meadow and a working dairy farm just down the road. We are now the owners of an outdoor hot tub which we are enjoying more than I’d imagined: it feels really good after a run or hike! Our town is quintessential Vermont, with a village green, small market, gas station, hardware store, wine & cheese shop, library, post office, doctor’s, dentist’s and veterinarian‘s offices, and bakery/coffee shop. We are just one mile outside of the village on a dirt road. 

Part of the, er, intelligence of basing out of Vermont is that we will spend the coldest months- or parts of the colder months - in warmer climes. To that end, we are some how, some way going to make our way back to the Southwest for part of the winter.  (Go ahead:  made snide comments about being Snowbirds.)

So, a quick update on the past 6 months:

Thinking our house was SOLD in early May (much to our surprise, we had offers within 2 days of putting the house on the market), the next couple of weeks were consumed with packing, cleaning, and wrapping my head around driving (SOLO) our 2 kitties, Fillmore and Url, across the country to Vermont. My mom and dad had kindly agreed to care for them until we closed on a place in Vermont. Chris got off scot-free by a 2-week business trip to Boise. All I can say about the ordeal is Yay for crazy internet forums, where I learned all the tricks of long-distance driving with cats in tow: get kitty relaxation drugs (read: tranquilizers) just in case, use a large dog cage instead of smaller carriers, and stop every night at a motel. Amazingly, surprisingly, the cats were angels and remained almost completely quiet during the entire 3000 mile, 5-day trip (okay, they were scared out of their minds), and I never had to resort to using the drugs although I contemplated popping one myself a couple of times. All that said, it is something I never want to do again. I arrived in Vermont only to find out that our “buyers” had backed out of the contract on the very last possible day!  Sigh...  Some people are real jerks.

I left the Honda and the cats in Vermont and flew back to LA on July 1. For the next almost 3 months we “camped out” in our now empty home, camped out for real in the Sierras, and enjoyed a combination work/play trip to Colorado, including doing the Virginius Pass aid station at Hardrock. I’m leaving out lots of pesky details, but suffice it to say wearing the same 5-6 outfits all summer and feeling like squatters in our own home got old fast.

The Sierra trips, however, were awesome.  The first trip was on the west side and some new territory at Mineral King and Sequoia National Park. I concocted a couple of longish run/hikes:  Paradise Ridge/Timber Gap/Mineral King and what I dubbed the "Tour de Florence," which was an almost 30 miler around Florence Peak.  It was pretty kick ass.  I finally did the popular ~40 mile Rae Lakes loop run, and Chris and I also did a couple of short backpacks to Pear and Twin Lakes, as well as spending 3 days backpacking around Franklin Lake with our buds Luis and Bev Escobar.  The second trip in early September was on the east side and included northern & eastern Yosemite, Lee Vining, and Bishop based hikes.  An almost 40 miler from Twin Lakes (near Bridgeport) to Tuolumne Meadows was the highlight run, but one from Tioga Road to Silver Lake over Parker and Koip Passes was pretty nice, too.  We had a lot of fun hanging with our Bishop friends, the Boyds, for a few days and got in a 5-day backpack from Taboose Pass (holy crap, what a climb) to South Lake, visiting Bench Lake, Palisade Lakes, and Dusy Basin on the way.  In between Sierra trips, we returned to Vermont for a week in August to house hunt and were lucky enough to find our new home. Yay!! FINALLY our California house closed for real, and we truly were homeless for a few weeks. I spent my last few days in California climbing 2 of the 3 “big mountains” in SoCal, Mts. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, both of which are over 10,000 ft. in elevation. (Mt. Baldy, which we’d aleady climbed a couple of times, is the other one.)

We arrived in Vermont on September 27 and have kept very busy unpacking, cleaning, and doing yard work - the previous owners were avid gardeners and left quite a project for us. My thumb is being coaxed green. We’ve snuck away for a few day hikes in the Whites and get out for a run most days.  The best trail network - for running, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and skiing - that I have found in all my travels, Kingdom Trails, is just a 20-minute drive from our house.  There are over 100 miles of trails there, in addition to literally hundreds of miles of quiet dirt roads.  The cats have settled in and seem to like their larger indoor roaming area here. We like the beauty and quiet that is rural Vermont, the generally progressive attitudes and, for me, being back HOME.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Missouri Miles - DONE

I must admit to being rather unexcited about accompanying Chris on his latest work assignment to the Heartland - that is, Kansas City - but that's because all my brain could conjure up was barbeque and flat row upon flat row of corn.  What I'd forgotten is that at a certain midwestern longitude, the air becomes more humid, the water becomes more abundant, and the predominant springtime color on the landscape is GREEN.  Such was the case with KC.

We found some great trails within a short drive of our accommodations:  Swope Park, BURP, Landahl Park, and Smithville Lake.  All the trails were smooth singletrack, playfully weaving back and forth through the hardwood forests with little ups 'n downs, and all the trails were built by the mountain biking community.  Thank you, thank you, thank you mountain bikers.  I was able to easily get in about 70 miles on these fun trails.  We also ate barbeque.  KC was pretty cool.

This is a short and sweet post because we have been super busy with "stuff" and hopefully will be in a position to relay some very good and exciting news in the near future ! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Florida Miles: DONE

We tacked on a couple of extra days on the tail end of a business trip to Jacksonville last week so that I could complete my 50 trail miles in Florida.

I chose a section of the foot-travel-only Florida Trail in the Ocala National Forest which showcases a unique habitat:  the sand pine scrub forest.  This is the largest remaining tract of this particular habitat, most of which has been destroyed by development.  This stretch of FT was the first section to be cut and blazed back in the 60s.

With a surface of sand, pine needles, and/or leaves, the trail was flat (duh), smooth, and "no-excuses" runable!  It was also extremely well marked.  The Juniper Prairie Wilderness was my favorite section.

"Prairies" here take on a different meaning.

At times the trail felt very tropical, at times more north woodsy...

Hopkins Prairie was the largest, and I was treated to sightings of 8 sand hill cranes (also 6 deer, 3 black snakes, lots of birdies, and ick:  TICKS).

Scrub Jays?
Saw a few species of flowers I'd never seen before.  Palmetto everywhere...

The Ocala has numerous natural springs and shallow lakes.  At the end of the first hot, humid day I appreciated a dip into 72-degree Juniper Springs.  Aah...BLISS!

With temps in the upper 80s and high humidity, taking 2 days to complete all 50 miles made for a more enjoyable, laid back experience.  Chris crewed me again (yes, I am a very lucky woman) and was able to meet me every 5-8 miles.  It was still hot and humid enough that I ran with a bladder full of water.
After a quick sponge bath, I am done... and about to be attacked by a clump of Spanish moss!


Friday, April 13, 2012

AT thru Shenandoah National Park... in One Swell Foop

Over 5 months in 1994, I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, still the single adventure in my life I consider to be the best, most meaningful, in every way.  I had dabbled in ultrarunning pre-AT (JFK in '92 and '93) but got way more into the sport after my thru-hike and had a lot of fun revisiting different sections of the Trail by doing big chunks in one push as "training" for ultras:  the ~70 AT miles through the Great Smoky Mountains twice; the 40'ish Quad State Quad Buster (or 4 State Challenge), PA to VA thru MD and WV;  NY to MA thru CT in a day, about 50 miles; numerous long run/hikes on the AT/Long Trail in Vermont; the ~50 miles from Kinsman Notch to Hanover, NH, 4 times; and the 50'ish White Mtns. Hut Traverse (many but not all miles on the AT) 4 times as well.  The almost 100 miles of AT thru Shenandoah National Park had been on my radar for a long time, but I wasn't able to make it happen until last weekend.
When Chris was offered a work gig in DC a couple of months ago, I politicked for some extra days on the front end of the trip in order to finally attempt the Shenandoah AT section...  and also politicked for Chris to crew me.  Yay, he agreed!  Other runners I know have done the SNP miles in 2 or even 3 days, and the year Chris turned 50 he ran from the finish line at Mountain Masochist all the way to Front Royal, a distance of ~150 miles over 5 days...  but I wanted to do the entire section in one push.  Since the AT crosses or touches/abuts Skyline Drive about 50 times (for real), that meant I could go very light and was able to meet Chris about every 5 miles.

After some deliberation re start time, realizing that the nighttime hours were going to be long and, umm..., "contemplative" no matter when I started, I decided to set off around 3 p.m. on Saturday after a yummy lunch at Stone Soup in Waynesboro.  The first 20 miles or so before sunset went very well, with the Trail seeming somewhat easier on the southern end of the park, that sense undoubtedly complemented by fresh legs.  In the photo below I am not trying to make a fashion statement -- in fact, it's the first time I've worn calf sleeves while running -- but rather, after a nasty experience with a deer tick in the Shenandoahs a couple of years ago, I am *paranoid* of ticks and the horrible diseases they carry.  The sleeves and gaiters were there solely as tick armor.  (They worked.)
As darkness descended, I (smugly, I'll admit) thanked my lucky stars that I am not afraid of the dark and of being alone on the trail at night.  After all, I figured the only thing to "fear," other than ticks, is humans... and most of the perverts of the world aren't waiting at road crossings on Skyline Drive for lone female runners.  The nighttime hours were long, as expected, but thankfully sleepiness was never an issue -- I stayed wide awake and alert the whole night through without the aid of caffeine.  The full moon was spectacular!!  One unexpected occurrence was encountering a small fire atop Bearfence Mountain just off the trail.  (We reported it to the park rangers the next day.  They already knew about it and were sending crews up to take care of it.)  At about 4 a.m. a skunk appeared on the path ahead of me, and I cautiously followed it for about a couple hundred yards before it finally veered off the trail, thankfully without feeling threatened enough to spray me.  Wildlife sightings were an all-time low for me in SNP:  only 6 deer and no bear.  I did hear one whip-poor-will for just a few seconds which, stirring up fond memories of the nighttime hours at Massanutten, put a big smile on my face.
Easter sunrise was a welcomed sight -- it was absolutely beautiful.  The weather had been great throughout the night -- a bit cold (40s) if I stopped for too long but relatively calm and needing to cover my legs only from about 4-6 a.m.  Sunday was a slight bit cooler and quite breezy on the ridge but very nice for running.  Oddly, there were a couple of early afternoon hours where the temps actually got warm and, with the lack of full leaf coverage, I got a tiny bit of sunburn.  As the hours and miles progressed, my "run" became more and more of a fast hike, but I put little pressure on myself.  The main goal was to complete the miles, not set any records.  I did notice around the 24-hour mark that I'd made it to Elkwallow Gap which is about mile 80.  Woohoo.
After meeting me one last time at Jenkins Gap, Chris got us a room in Front Royal before driving around and picking me up at the foot of the Compton Gap Trail.  I'd scoped out the shortest escape route from the northern SNP terminus, and it was only 0.7 mile to the car.  And, just like that, I was done.  Yippee!  Having not done this kind of mileage since the Bear 100 in September of 2010, I really had no business attempting 96 miles in one push but was pleased with how well my body responded.  Only the balls of my feet were sore.  I blame that on the rocks of the Shenandoahs which I'd somehow forgotten about.  My Salomon Speedcross shoes and Drymax socks performed excellently:  not once did I take off my shoes or so much as adjust a lace, and I suffered nary a blister!

As we discussed dinner on the short drive back to Front Royal, I surprised Chris by saying "Screw it, let's just go to Burger King for Whoppers."  It was my second BK visit since college.  It tasted awesome!!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Five days in Death Valley

I spent the past week on a little solo foray to Death Valley while Chris was in Dallas on business.  (I don't do Dallas.)  My "A" plan had been 10,000+ foot Mts. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio in Southern California, but a couple of rainy-down-low/snowy-up-high weekends necessitated a switch to Plan B.  I love Death Valley for its quiet solitude and springtime warmth, and it had been over 3 years since my last visit so I figured it was time for another visit.  After driving some back roads to Mohave, I made my way through Ridgecrest and Trona, arriving at the Wildrose charcoal kilns in time for a Monday afternoon jaunt up Wildrose, elev. 9064 feet.

The 4-mile trail is easy, climbing just over 2000 feet.  It makes for a nice little acclimatization hike for nearby Telescope Peak, at 11043 feet the high point of Death Valley National Park.

After my hike, I drove around the northern end of the Panamints, through Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek en route to Shorty's Well, my starting point for Tuesday's excursion up Hanaupah Canyon.  My goal was to scope out the route up Telescope Peak from the east, a route that climbs over 11,000 vertical feet in ~15 miles.  I've been intrigued by this route for some time:  there aren't many mountains that can claim that kind of vert in one sustained climb!

I made it up to Hanaupah Spring, a sublime oasis in the desert, and spotted a coyote high in the canyon.  What a treat!  At this point I'd climbed about 5000 vert in about 11 miles.  The summit was only 5 miles further, but with another 6000 feet to ascend - and the reality that I'd have to return via the same laborious route (most who ascend this route take the groomed trail down and either get picked up or have a vehicle spotted at Mahogany Flats), I opted to save it for another time.  Okay, I wimped out.  The walk back down to Shorty's Well was sort of monotonous, but the temps rose as I descended.  This was a good thing - I like a bit of heat, and it got up to probably the low 80s, warm enough for a rinse from the solar shower anyway.  That's the Amargosa Range towering over Badwater Basin in the distance.

A quick reality check in Furnace Creek - I got 4 gallons, just enough to get me through the rest of  the week - and I was on my way to Emigrant Campground for the night.

After Tuesday's ~22 miles, I slept like a rock in the Honda Element, waking at 8 AM for a leisurely morning of reading (the excellent and appropriate America's Women:  400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins) over breakfast and coffee (REAL coffee with real half 'n half).  I spent late morning and early afternoon driving west to Panamint Springs and checking out Darwin Falls.  Having decided to do Telescope Peak via the easy trail the following day, I made my way back to Wildrose Campground for the night.  Thursday morning I was up at O'dark thirty for the 17-mile round trip jaunt.  The trail to Telescope is easy and runable, assuming one can properly breathe at 8000-11000 feet elevation.  Since I was carrying a down jacket, wind pants, mittens, food, water, and other safety gear, my pack weight was enough that I happily walked (vs. ran) the entire ridge.

With thankfully mild temps (30s-40s), only slight winds, and just a slight bit of tricky snow traversing, I made it to the summit by midmorning and enjoyed the view... especially the view down into South Hanaupah Canyon, further checking out the route up Telescope from that side, to be completed at a future date...

On the return across the ridge, I encountered 14 other hikers which seemed like a lot of people for midweek in the middle of nowhere.  That's Bennett and Rogers Peaks in the photo below.  I climbed them on my last trip up Telescope 3 years ago.

After catching up on email, texts, and voicemails in Ridgecrest - there is very little cell service in Death Valley National Park save for Furnace Creek - Thursday night was spent in Red Rock Canyon State Park which is about 1/3 of the way back home.  In a bit of an effort to put off the inevitable unloading, unpacking, laundry, and mail catch-up, I stopped for a short run on the PCT Friday morning.  This particular section of trail, near San Francisquito Canyon, was smooth and switchbacked, near perfect for running.  Yeah!!
Chris took the next 3 photos at Point Mugu State Park just this morning.  We had a nice 11 miler in the cool misty coastal air, quite a change from the previous 5 days.

It's nice to be back home.........

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coyote Craziness

Our fearless leader
Grey whale !!

Santa Cruz Island miles
"Let's wear the same thing, Bill."
We ate well.

More miles in the sun, then back to the Mainland

Backbone Trail - end of Day 1

Figuring out where the flock the trail goes... (I have an idea:  directional signs might help.)

We are done Backbonin'

Bowling time (yes, they are on the paleo diet)

Time for lots (and lots and lots) of miles on Nordoff Ridge

Coming and going...

Firewood patrol
Gorgeous sunsets x 2

Stunning, really

Decked out in Denali gear for the chill of 6000 feet

Happy to be done

9 days... lots of miles... happy faces... success

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Month of Beautiful Runs

February turned out to be a month where I got in some beautiful trail runs!  After running the Skyline to the Sea Trail, we spent two weeks in the SOMA/Tenderloin area of San Francisco.  Except for a couple of days, the weather was stellar.  Just about every other day I made my way across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands, where I ran the Headlands 100 course (just one loop though); a high circumnavigation of Mt. Tamalpais on a lovely foggy and drizzly morning; what I call the Slacker Hill Run -- from the Presidio across the GG Bridge, up Slacker Hill and back; a Muir Woods-Pantoll loop; and my favorite, a 25 miler at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Because I had never before visited Point Reyes and wanted to get the most bang for my buck, I consulted Leor Pantilat's fabulous blog, where I discovered the awesomely cool loop that I ended up running, my version modified a bit to add a couple more miles.  I love the Bay Area for its spectacular scenery and diversity of ecosystems and miles 'n miles 'n miles of TRAILS.  In no other area have I run through giant redwoods on smooth, needle-covered singletrack and sandy beaches on the same day.  Alamere Falls was my favorite part of this particular loop in spite of the rope-assisted (!) rappel/scramble to get down to the beach.  (Then I still had to climb back UP.)  Imagine a waterfall right at the ocean's edge.  It was way cool.  No photos, though, since I don't usually carry a camera while running (but check Leor's blog).
On the days we were stuck in the City, we enjoyed jaunts in Golden Gate Park and the Presidio as well as just walking all over San Francisco.  We even acted like tourists and did the Cable Car ride one night.  Fun!  The Federal Court of Appeals happened to be located diagonally across the street from our hotel, and on the morning of February 7th I heard loud cheers when it was announced that California's ridiculous Prop 8 had been repealed.  I cheered as well and look forward to the day when same sex marriage is legalized in each of the United States (and continue to be SO proud of my homestate of Vermont, the first to legalize civil unions way back in 2000).
On our way back home, Chris and I spent a night at Pinnacles National Monument.  This is a neat area with about 30 miles of trails that surpassed our expectations -- lots of cool rocks, caves, tunnels, and plant life -- and a howling coyote who woke everyone up in the campground around 6 a.m. which was pretty funny.  Can you find me in the picture below?
Back in the 'Nard and somewhat caught up on things on the home front, my friend Scott and I did the Fishbowls 50k this past Saturday.  You won't find that "event" on Ultra Signup; it's a lollipop loop in the Sespe Wilderness that I'd been wanting to run for a year or more.  Two big climbs and kind of  "back there" (no one seen for miles 'n miles... on a beautiful Saturday) but not as hard as I'd expected it would be.  Just a nice long run in solitude.
I hope you are finding some beauty as well, whether on trail or not.  Until next time...