Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fall BEAST Race (6 hour Adventure Race)

This year’s fall BEAST race took place down in Tahoma State Forest, near Ashford, WA and Mount Rainier. After a couple days of rain and snow, temperatures hovered near freezing, and Sunday was looking clear and sunny. Andrew and I both wore water-proof socks, and we brought YakTrax for our running shoes for traction in the snow. I wore a lightweight long-sleeved wool shirt and a lightweight long-sleeve thermal shirt over that (I decided on two layers after I almost froze during the pre-race meeting). I also put some handwarmer packets in my bike gloves, as I often have problems with my fingers going numb in temperatures like this.

The race started with a LeMans start – a 200m run out and back to our bikes parked by the side of the road. Andrew and I ran ahead of everyone and got a jump start, although we were quickly caught by several teams behind us at the first CP. We dodged into the trees at the base of a ridge to hit CP 2 fairly quickly and got out ahead again. One of the state park managers awaited us at a huge log pile blocking one of the forest roads, and she took our picture as we vaulted over it carrying our bikes on our shoulders. I put Andrew on tow after CP 3 so that we could keep our momentum up the hills that were coming. Glenn and Mike were right behind us at CP 4, hoping we’d miss it, but we got that one quickly and moved on to CP 5, which was up one of three reentrants. It was fairly easy to see once we were in the trees. So far, everything was going smoothly. Glenn and Mike were looking strong, and Kevin/Dean, an unknown pair (to me), were also hot on our heels.

CP 6 was on the SE side of a saddle, and our bike route took us to both the north and south sides. I had originally thought that we would come up from the south side, but as we passed the north side of the saddle, I realized it was a much shorter climb from that side, and so we stopped there and quickly dispatched the CP, which lay just on the other side of the ridge. We spiked CP 7 when I climbed up a steep slope to the west side of a quarry, right to the CP.

Then came the long, long climb up a decommissioned logging road to CP 8. Andrew was really tired at this point and had trouble riding his bike up the road. I had him on tow, but a lot of cuts in the road and a few fallen trees caused us to get off/on our bikes a lot more than we wanted to. CP8 was just alongside this road, just above snow level. From there, we continued to climb, and a quick stop by Andrew caused our tow rope to snap. Then it became push-a-bike, and both Glenn/Mike and Kevin/Dean passed us before we got to the top. All of us pushed our bikes up steeply through a few inches of snow at the very top of the road. The Bike-to-Run TA was not too far away, and we all pulled into it close together. Now we were on foot.

Kevin/Dean were ahead by a short ways, but we caught up with them at CP10, where they were milling about. Andrew and I ducked left into the trees and tagged the CP while they watched and followed. Apparently their navigation is a bit spotty. They followed us to CP 11 at High Hut (elevation 4760’) and then caught up with us again in time to see us get CP 12 down the ridge. We headed along a ski trail to CP13 with Kevin/Dean 20 feet behind us, so we stopped to let them pass. Besides, the people in front had to break trail through the four inches of snow. CP 13 was right along this trail and easy to locate. Peteris and Chrisi showed up. Peteris made a back-handed compliment about what a Superman I was, so why were THEY right behind us? Glenn and Mike might have arrived also; it was getting a bit crowded.

Everyone went in different directions to CP 14. Andrew and I took the direct way straight up through the bushes, and made it to the ridge first. We followed the ridge to the high point and hit CP 14, and then we continued several hundred feet down the ridge through heavy snow-laden brush until we intersected a road. There we jogged right, found a small ski trail marked on the map, and dropped another several hundred feet to a basin below. Being first was definitely a disadvantage, as snow covered me as I knocked overhanging branches out of the way along the narrow trail. I had two fairly warm layers on, though, so I did not get too cold. We were happy to have waterproof socks on when the trail went in/through some large ankle deep partially frozen puddles that would have otherwise chilled our toes.

CP 15 was on the northwest side of a shallow hill. I missed it and headed too far north into the bushes, and while I was thrashing around (two, three minutes?), all three other teams passed us. Andrew and I picked up the pace to catch up with them at CP 16 on the next hill and CP 17 at the edge of an open field. Then we climbed up to a road that headed up to a saddle and to CP 18/19 on the other side.

At this point, Kevin and Dean, who I think were ahead of everyone, disappeared. From what I understand, they went pass the turns for both CP 18 and CP 19 and kept heading down the road a ways, and when they realized that they were too far, they called it quits (something about needing to be home by a certain time, I heard). In any case, we never saw them again.

Glenn/Mike led out to CP 19. We were allowed to get CP 18/19 in either order, and I had already decided that CP 19 had a better attackpoint if we headed there first, as CP 18 was on a hilltop and easy locate from any direction, while CP 19 was in a reentrant off a fairly straight smaller road with only a subtle curve in it. We got to the expected location and I dove into the bushes as Glenn and Mike verified their location from the road. I found the CP and got back to the road without revealing the location to others. Andrew and I bushwhacked up the slope aiming for the hilltop far above us as Peteris and Christi joined Glenn/Mike at the previous CP.

We made it to the hilltop first to nab CP 18. I could hear both Peteris and Glenn talking in the woods below us, very close behind us. From here, we retraced our steps all the way back to the TA where we had left our bikes, so I put the WeGo Racelink on Andrew and we started to motor as fast as we were able (which got slower and slower as the day wore on). One decommissioned road we followed was like a mogul run with all of the snow covered cuts across it. We did manage to gain a couple minutes on the others by the time we pulled into the TA (now CP 20).

At this point, Matt and Erin handed us new maps for the “Pro Course”, and extra loop containing three more CPs that would give us bonus time, so we headed back out again trying to keep up the pace. The first CP (CP21) was at the edge of a clearing above the road, and I took a chance by bushwhacking straight up to it rather than taking another road up that required a slightly longer route. We popped out in the clearing within twenty feet of the CP. Yay! We continued along another very snowy decommissioned road that was partially overgrown with slide alder. At a hairpin turn in this road, we caught CP 22 and continued straight down the ridge through light brush, dropping 300 feet down to a ski trail, along which CP 23 was located. I could hear Peteris singing somewhere above us on the ridge. We turned left and followed the ski trail back out to a main road, and back up to the TA again where our bikes were located.

The only thing left was to ride our bikes down the main road to the finish. The RD had mentioned at race start that as the road was snowy and slippery most of the way down, we would all be charged at least 12.5 minutes on this leg, even if we did it faster, so as to discourage a breakneck race to the finish. Andrew and I passed Glenn/Mike and Peteris/Christi a minute or two down the road as they were still coming up, so we knew that we could relax on our victory lap to the finish.

Oh, and I forgot to mention all the beautiful scenery and views, including gorgeous views of Mount Rainier just across the valley. This was a beautiful race in an amazing location. Thanks to Eric Bone, the RD, for making this happen.

Monday, November 10, 2008

USARA Nationals

Matt Hayes, Julie Heidt and I headed off to Atlanta on the redeye Wednesday night for the USARA Nationals 30 hour Adventure Race. Thursday was a busy day for us, as we had to drive up to Blue Ridge, collect our bikes from the bike shop, build them, drop them off at the bike drop, pack our packs and then head out to the pre-race meeting Thursday evening. There we got the CP coordinates and two maps for the race (minus the prologue), after which we quickly headed home and got to work on route planning, and eventually got to bed by 11pm.

The next morning we woke up at 4:30am to get to the pre-race meeting at 5:45am at the park in Blue Ridge. After a short meeting, we boarded a train and travelled six miles up the river to the actual start of the race (one team missed the train and had to run six miles to the start). We were given the prologue map on the train, which included a short orienteering section, followed by a knee-deep river crossing to reach the canoes for the 15 mile canoe trip down the river under sunny skies.

Toccoa River was fairly wide and shallow, and we constantly had to maneuver around (and over) rocks. I really enjoyed this leg, as the river was pretty, but also kept us on our toes. A 3 foot high spillway blocked the river at one point, requiring a short portage. We made it off the water in 6th place. We then had to carry/drag our canoes almost a kilometer along a logging road to the canoe drop-off point, where we started our run segment at 10:30am or so.

We ran through a nice trail system for several more miles to the bike drop-off point at Thunder Rock campground as skies clouded up and a drizzling rain started.

I discovered that I had a flat tire as we jumped on our bikes, requiring a quick fix. Then we headed out on a mountain bike leg to pick up 5 more CPs. This leg introduced us to how the race navigation was going to be. CP5 was on an unmarked forest road off the main road, then CP 6 was off a small unmarked horse trail off the unmarked forest road. We followed the visible yet faint trail along the ridge to CP 7, and then dropped down the ridge to Patterson Gap for our bike-to-run transition at CP 8, at 4pm. By this time, it had begun to really pour hard. I kept my bike gloves and wool shirt in a ziploc to keep them dry, so that I could wear them at night when it was cold. The rain was not too bad, as long as we didn't stop exercising for too long.

The next section was a 7 mile trekking loop, where we could get CP 9,10,11,12 in any order. We did these in numerical order, and dispatched them fairly quickly. Leaving CP 11, we had to bushwhack 1200 feet up to a logging road. CP 12 was on a ridge in the woods, requiring an out-and-back bushwhack. We donned our headlamps as the light fell into darkness, and we were happy to collect the last trekking CP before it was too dark. We returned to CP 8/13 to pick up our bikes again at 6:35pm.

The bike ride from CP 13 to CP 14 was fairly straightforward on a main forest road, although there were a lot of ups and downs. I was a little tired from towing Julie the previous foot loop, and so I could hardly keep up with Matt and Julie on some of the climbs here. Although Julie got towed a lot in this race (using our WeGo Team Link), she really kept up and made the rest of us work to keep up as well. We were definitely not dawdling. We arrived at CP 14 at 8:16pm.

CP 15,16,17 was another trekking orienteering loop, which we again did in numerical order. The Pinhoti Trail was not marked on our map, but we drew it in the night before and planned to use this trail in our loop. I felt good to have done some previous research to that we did not have to make as many on-the-fly decisions about uncharted trails. We felt really strong on this 9 mile loop. We also saw DART coming the other direction, and they were looking strong, but not too too far ahead of us. We were in 4th at this point, and felt solid.

Returning to CP 14/18 at 10:50 pm, we picked up our bikes again for the killer longer-than-eternity biking section. We could get CP 19-13 in any order, followed by CP 24, then CP 25-28 in any order, followed by CP 29 and then to the finish. Little did we know that this would take over 12 hours.

We picked a route that hit CP 19,20,23,22,21 then 24. We saw DART coming back from CP 20 as we hit CP 19, which was on top of Flattop mountain. We were close to 3rd place at this point. Julie's brakes stopped working due to mud and wetness (get disc brakes), and then she mentioned that she did not have health insurance. Accident waiting to happen? Stay lucky, Julie. On the trail to CP 20, a turn-off was extremely hard to find, and we passed it, then passed it again on our way back. After some careful mapwork, however, we found the trail, disguised by downed trees and almost invisible until we bushwhacked a short ways back into the woods. This trail quickly became a bike-carry as we constantly hiked over fallen trees. The trail dropped out onto CP 20 and a forest road. We followed this to a spot where we left our bikes to climb to CP 23 (on another hill) and back. From here, we had planned to take a trail marked on the map over to CP 22, but we could not find it. Where the trail was marked leaving the logging road there was now a 20 foot cliff, so we quickly decided to take the road to CP 21 instead. This was a long winding downhill ride that became really, really cold as we travelled along the creek at the bottom through cold, almost frosty mist. We turned off on FSR 623 to the end to get to CP 21, then retraced our path back to the main road. Only CP 22 left.

CP 22 was deceptive and difficult. We followed a road onto private land that dead-ended into a forest. An old forest service road that was completely overgrown continued on, but was heading west instead of south. We doubled back and tried again, and after a couple of false starts, we discovered that while the actual new-looking road curved from south slowly to the west past some houses, the road on the map stayed south and crossed the creek. We ducked into the woods as a few other teams were milling aimlessly around in the same area, then we crossed the creek and found the old overgrown road. After a difficult bike/bushwhack, we nabbed CP22. The sun was just rising and both we and our hopes started to warm up.

We got to CP 24 at 7am or so, after 8 full hours on the previous orienteering section. Bonfires were going and a couple teams were warming themselves by the fire. It turns out that everybody was having a difficult time and very few people had passed by who had already cleared the course. We were still in the running. The next section was going to be easier. It could also be done in any order, but the order was fairly obvious (CP25,27,26,28,29). From CP 24 to CP 25, we could either take a 3km trail or 12 km on the road. We had seen a trailhead on the previous night, but it turns out that it was in the wrong spot and was the start of an unmarked decommissioned forest service road. At this point, I think that we should have switched plans and taken the road, but after 24 hours, we were singularly minded. We bushwhacked a short bit to find the old overgrown trail, then pushed our bikes the 3km through bush and over logs to reach the FS road to CP 25. The 3km trail took us an hour to traverse.. In any case, we had a race to finish.

The last CPs were all easy to find. CP 25 required a short hike up to a waterfall and back. We headed down the road another 15 minutes to CP 27, which put us on a trail that lead to Hudson Gap. We pushed our bikes a lot on this trail, although it was much clearer than trails we had seen the previous night. Hike-a-bike was a common theme for this race.. The map showed a forest road that came within 80 vertical feet of the trail, but a group ahead of us had no luck finding the road on a bushwhack they had done, so we stuck to the trail that continued up along the river valley, now unmarked on the map. It left us right below Hudson Gap, to which we climbed right up to the CP. Only roads left now.

We followed logging roads and paved roads to CP 28 and 29. At this point, we started seeing a lot more teams, as everyone was heading back to the finish with whatever collection of CPs that they had collected so far. The very last section from CP 29 to the finish, however, was brutal. We travelled 4 miles on a railroad bed, and we could either ride between the rails (lots of jarring bumps across railroad ties) or try to ride the gravel along the edge which got very narrow most of the time and spilled off into a ditch. Once under the freeway at the south edge of town, we jumped onto some real roads and rode into the finish at 11:30am.

We finished 6th. Only 7 teams out of 80 completed the whole course. We finished in 28.5 hours, three hours behind DART/Nuun (the winners) and only 25 minutes out of third place.
The race was very tough, and I felt good too have finished it. Matt and Julie were stellar teammates as well.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Grand Canyon R2R2R

Last weekend, Andrew Feucht, Chase Mueller and I headed down to the Grand Canyon for a vacation that included the R2R2R (rim-to-rim-to-rim), a trail running classic that covers 45 miles and almost 11,000 vertical feet of gain. We planned to do the running starting from the south rim, running down the South Kaibab trail on the way out, and coming back on the Bright Angel Trail. My father, Warren, and his wife, Karen, drove down from Moab to see us before and after the run. Warren also wanted to see if his R2R2R time of 10 hours 15 minutes was safe from being beaten. We weren’t going to be racing, so we assured him it was.

We stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge on the south rim Sunday and Monday nights (thanks to Andrew for booking that six months ago), and we found ourselves on Monday morning at 5:15am at the South Kaibab Trailhead, under a half moon and clear starry skies. Temperatures in the canyon were going to be in the mid to high 80s. We had expected a cool morning on the rim, but within minutes we were sweating, so we knew it was going to be a warm day. Down we dropped, 4800 feet to the river. Although pack mule trains occasionally head down to Phantom Ranch starting at 4:30am, we did not encounter any.

We crossed the Colorado and passed Phantom Ranch, then headed 7 miles up to Cottonwood Campground. This section was both very runnable and very enjoyable, as it was mostly in the shade in a steep walled canyon with very gradual elevation gain. We arrived at Cottonwood at 8:45am.

From Cottonwood, the elevation gain started to pick up a little as we headed up to Roaring Springs, our last stop for water. After Roaring Springs, we headed steeply up canyons that looked impassable, but the trail wound its way along ledges blasted in the rock with incredible views and steep drop-offs. Our gait slowed. I felt good, but Andrew was trying to keep his heart rate in check, and Chase was having a few problems with leg cramps towards the top. We topped out at 11:30am into an empty parking lot with no views whatsoever. Welcome to the North Rim.

After a twenty minute break, we turned around and made good time back down to Cottonwood Campground. There we took a fifteen minute soak in the cool waters of the creek. Chase had not been consuming enough water and electrolytes over the previous three hours, and it started to affect him with more cramps and lightheadedness.

Chase led out from Cottonwood Campground down to Phantom Ranch; however, he slowed to a walk on any uphill, and then on the flats as well. We discovered that he was not doing well and stopped along the creek before Phantom Ranch for a long break. Chase started vomiting at this point.

Naturally, this turn of events caused us some alarm. We tried to get Chase to consume more food and water, and after a short rest, we walked/trotted down to Phantom Ranch. We drank lemonade and sat in the shade for a bit. We headed out again at a brisk hike.
Onwards and upwards. Chase did well to keep hiking for the next five miles until we reached Indian Gardens. We stopped again while he vomited some more. The sun began to set. It was now 6pm with only 4.5 miles to go, but we still had a 3000 foot climb between us and the trailhead. Chase started to shiver. Andrew was so warm he had his t-shirt off.

Andrew mentioned that this would be a good time for a tow rope, and it spurred me to action. I discovered that I could turn my Coban self-adhesive bandage into a bungie coard of sorts. I left this and a jacket with Andrew while I went for some help. I planned on running up to the rim to get bananas and other munchies, trekking poles, and alert Warren and Karen, who were probably waiting at the top. Then I would run back down again. After about a quarter mile, though, I passed a couple guys who were using a cell phone. They let me borrow it. I called Warren and had him come down the trail with supplies, and we would meet him on our way up at some point. I turned back down the trail to find that Andrew and Chase were making some good progress with the tow rope setup.

The tow rope really helped, and Andrew and Chase made it all the way to 3 Mile Resthouse, where we took another rest. At this point, we were fairly relaxed, as we were making progress and my father knew where we were. I took over for Andrew, and we made it another mile up the trail before running into my father coming down. We stopped and had some food. Chase ate a banana, with good potassium for his muscle cramps. Andrew and I shared a muffin, which tasted much better than the one Gu that I had remaining for food. We continued on, our destination within reach.

We finally topped out at the Bright Angel Trailhead at 8:45pm, only a couple hundred yards from our room. Warren and Karen went to the restaurant and got us menus to order some takeout food, and then went to pick it up for us. We all ate dinner in our room and then went straight to bed. Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Peteris Ledins set up an Adventure Race for us this past weekend. With only four of us participating, however, it was more of an adventure than a race. We met 10 miles up a forest road north of North Bend.
Present were Nikolay Nachev, Tim Potter, Peteris and me.

Stage 1 was described as "Latvian Orienteering". Whether that means that other Latvians besides Peteris take responsibility for this format, I don't know. We were given a sheet of instructions with 60 distances and graphics representing intersections. We had to follow the road for a certain distance, at which point we hit an intersection. There, we went straight or turned according to the graphic (symbol). Along the way, we encountered 5 CPs. As we were on our bikes, we had cycle computers that could accurately track our distance, so the navigation was fairly straightforward. Our route took us up, up twisting forest roads to a fallen lookout tower at the top of a peak (3702') where a trace of snow still lingered from an early season snow a couple nights before.

Stage 2: We now opened our orienteering map and found our location. From here, we navigated to 8 CPs on our mountain bikes. The terrain occasionally matched up with the forest roads on the map. Some of the roads had been decommisioned and had huge ditches through them, while other roads were grassy with saplings growing through them. Fancy new roads appeared that looked like spur roads on the maps. It is apparent that active logging has gone on here since the maps were made. The day and the terrain are beautiful, however, and we have an enjoyable time. I took Tim on a gratuitous bike-whack down a steep slope (he and I were travelling as a team, as were Nikolay and Peteris), but managed to lose my map in the process. Good thing we stuck together! As we were behind Nikolay and Peteris, we were also tasked with collecting the orienteering markers used for CPs. Tim shuffled in his bike shoes across wet logs built into a pier out into Black Lake in order to collect one of the CPs. Our last CP was up a spur road filled with saplings that grabbed at your arms and face. We left our bikes here.

At this point, it was 3:15pm, six hours into our adventure. Tim decided he had enough, and so he headed home. He graciously gave me his orienteering map so that I could continue on the trekking leg myself and collect the CPs for Peteris. The trekking section was supposed to take three hours, so I was a little worried about fighting darkness. I decided to run whenever possible.

Stage 3: Trek. I bushwhacked down to a parallel road and quickly found CP14. I started off again up the road at a run, when the road ended in a giant clearcut. After a bit of wandering around, I headed back down the road to a grassy spur that I had previously seen. This dropped down to a parallel logging road, the one I wanted. I started north again on a road with saplings growing in it, crossed a stream going through the road, and continued, eventually popping out on a nice new road that went in two directions, only one of which was marked on my map. I passed an unmarked spur road that I didn't think I wanted. I had to make a choice of which road to take a couple more times as I came upon more unmarked roads, but when I came to the next CP, I knew I was still on course. The CP was 100 feet above me on top of a cliff, which presented its own challenges, however.

After climbing up and down some terribly steep slopes to retrieve the CP, I was off running again. Two more CPs followed easily, each one described as being at "a road not on the map from the main road which leads into the canyon". The last two trekking CPs were described as being "on the GPS path of the course setter", which was traced onto the map. Part of the GPS track was on an unmarked road (thankfully), but the rest of it put me on a forest road that was so out of commission it was barely visible through downed trees, and turned into a barely discernable footpath traversing between two steep slopes. I found the two CPs, and the foot path dwindled into a full-scale bushwhack through thorn bushes and across a stream, after which I popped out onto a road close to where our mountain bikes were, having completed a circuit around a series of small mountains and ridges. Total time for the trek was just over two hours.

Stage 4: "Ride back home, ASAP, you have seen everything". I collected my mountain bike and followed the map back to where we had left our cars eight hours earlier. I arrived while Peteris and Nikolay were still putting their gear away, and we all chatted about our adventures as the sun started to set.

On our way down the forest road, Nikolay shredded his tire after riding on a flat for five miles. That was the worst damage of the day. We were also stopped by some police that had set up a roadblock for hunters and lectured about not speeding. I had been a little worried about getting shot at during the day, after seeing several hunters in the morning on our way up the forest road; however, the only hunters we saw during the day were in their vehicles, and not out thrashing around through the woods at the same time I was. All in all, it was a good memorable day.

Friday, October 3, 2008

My work commute

With the high gas prices of this year, I took a look at my commute to work. I am lucky to live reasonably close to work (7 miles), and I usually bike into work. I occasionally run, and I rarely drive my car. Supposing that I go to work 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year (somewhat of an overstatement, if you know me), and I ride my bike instead of driving.
Here are some numbers:

Drive into work: 30 minutes/day * 240 = 120 hours/year

Bike into work: 35 minutes/day * 240 = 140 hours/year

So, I spend an extra 20 hours per year biking, but I get 140 hours (and 1700 miles) of exercise. That's a lot of free exercise that is costing me little extra time in my busy daily schedule.

Not to mention, I get to avoid sitting around in traffic. And I get to bike along the waterfront. And I save maybe 70 gallons of gas a year, which might go a little ways towards paying for my morning latte habit...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pics from PCT Run

Here are a few pictures from my trek the other weekend from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail. Joining me were Murray Maitland and Christi Masi.

We enjoyed beatiful weather the whole time, and excellent scenery.

At night, the temperatures dropped into the 50s and a full moon was out, for a perfect night running experience.

Kathy and Lisa had dropped off a car at Stevens Pass for us. By the time we got there, it was a welcome sight.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass on the PCT

I've always wanted to run the Pacific Crest Trail, and when my friend Murray Maitland suggested a 72 mile run last weekend from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass along the PCT, I jumped on it. Also joining us was his friend Christi Masi.

Our logistics worked out very well. Christi's husband drove us to Snoqualmie Pass on Saturday morning and dropped us off. Meanwhile, my girlfriend Kathy and Murray's wife Lisa drove two cars to Stevens Pass and dropped Lisa's car off for us at the end. Then they went backpacking, not wanting to waste a beautiful full moon weekend.

I brought my Gregory Iso pack, a 100 oz bladder, about 3 pounds of my favorite dehydrated food, a hat, a windshirt, arm warmers, leg warmers, gloves and a puffy jacket. I also brought Aqua Mira (pre-mixed) to treat water, sunglasses, a small amount of sunscreen, TP, a first aid kit, headlamp and handheld light (both with extra batteries), and my camera.

Are goal was to run the PCT in 24 hours, which was a reasonable 3 mph. No rain was forecast, and temperatures were 50 to 75 degrees. The night was particularly nice, with 50 degree weather and a full moon.

I'll update a little more when I get some pictures, but the short report is that we finished the run in 23 hours and 45 minutes, just about what we predicted, and my altimiter watch showed a little over 15,000 feet of gain. We only made one wrong turn in the middle of the night at Hope Lake, heading down a valley for a couple hundred yards, but we quickly realized our mistake. We saw one bear in the early afternoon, but he graciously stepped aside and let us pass unmolested. Scenery was quite spectacular. We stopped for water four times. Water was plentiful enough that we did not have any trouble with staying hydrated. Pictures later.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

SAGE Rogaine -- Savona, BC

My friend Andrew Feucht and I headed up to Savona, BC for the SAGE Rogaine. We have never done a rogaine before and were excited to try our meddle at this 24 hour race. Rogaining (a backronym for "Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation & Endurance") is similar to orienteering meets, but with the following characteristics:

  • It is long, e.g. 24 hours.

  • It is a team sport (2 - 5 people can be on a team)

  • CPs (checkpoints) are assigned point values reflecting distance and technical difficulty

  • Teams must decide what CPs to visit and in what order - route choice is important.

  • The map is a much larger area and much less detailed than an orienteering map.

We received our maps 3 hours before start time in order to have time to plot our course. Never having done this before, we plotted a course that was far too ambitious. We also decided to hit the open area in the day light and the forested area at night where we could follow the roads, which was the opposite of how almost everyone else did it. Apparently, they knew better that roads were mismarked and the forest was quite difficult to navigate at night, as we would find out.

The race started at noon on Saturday under cloudy skies with some sprinkled showers. The forcast was for it to clear up, so we were not too worried about the rain. I wore nylon pants, gaiters, and short sleeved shirt. I brought a wind shirt and a fleece hat as extra clothes. I carried all the food that I needed for 24 hours, as we were thinking of not coming back to the Hash House (perhaps somewhat naively). I also had a 100 oz bladder for water.

At noon, we synchronized our watches with the Race Director, as every minute we were late past noon the following day would cost us 10 point. Then we were off. In my hast, I made an almost immediate map-reading error, but Andrew kept me on course. This was after I told him that it is almost better to just walk to the first CP while you settle in. We decided to jog for as long as we could.

We dispatched several CPs in a reasonable fashion until we got to CP 52. The point value of each CP was its label rounded down to the nearest multiple of 10, so CP 52 was worth 50 points. Other CPs had values between 20 and 100. CP 52 was at the top of the gully on an easily identifiable hill; however, when we got up there, we searched for a half hour and could not find it. We found the gully, but the CP just wasn't there. With heavy hearts, we left. At the end of the race, the RD decided that the CP was sufficiently out of place that they gave anyone who looked the points for it, so we were vindicated in our decision to move on.

Still reeling from CP 52, however, we headed down to a gully that drops off towards the water to get CP 81. When we got there, we found many gullies, and the map was sufficiently large scale that it did not show enought detail. We dropped down the gully in front of us and went a few hundred fee too far down, until we knew that we were too far. We then went up a gully to our right and followed it most of the way back up. Still not finding the CP, we decided to head back up to the road, and ran across the CP a bit higher up than we thought. Adding an extra couple hundred feet of climbing to each CP was going to be a hallmark of our day if we were burly enough to keep it up.

Another CP with which we had trouble was CP 106, which was a long trek over open ground to the corner of the map. When we got there, we realized that we could not really identify which of the hills were the mapped features and which were too small to show up. We had not really kept track of how far we had gone, and we wandered around for another half hour looking for the CP. Eventually, I suggested going on to the next CP to relocate ourselves, as it was along a dried stream and seemed a little bit easier to locate. After going there and finding the next CP, we took a bearing on CP 106 again and then headed back, finding it fairly easily. We promised ourselves to always keep track of paces from now on in order to give us some idea of how far we had gone.

At this point, we both ran out of water.

We still had six more CPs planned before hitting the water station, but now it was late afternoon and all the clouds had burned off with temperatures in the mid 70s. We replanned our route to hit only three of the CPs, then head up a 500 foot hill to the water station. After that, we'd have to come back down the hill and get the other three CPs and get back on track, hopefully before dark. Off we went, hoping we wouldn't lose another half hour trying to locate a missing CP, but everything went smoothly, and we made it to the water station without bonking too badly, although we were pretty seriously dehydrated. We each drank 50 to 60 oz. of water at the water station, then refilled our 100 oz bladders. It was 7 pm, and darkness came promptly at 8pm.

Rehydrated, we started running again, and picked up the other three CPs while there was still light. As darkness came, we settled in for a long, slow slog through the forested section of the map. The first few CPs were not difficult as there were fairly good handrails and attackpoints to reach them. CP105 was on a hilltop, for example, so all we had to do was go up. When we reached CP 83, however, we ran into trouble again.

CP 83 appeared to be only 150 meters off the road with a good attackpoint as the road did a U-turn. We took a bearing and headed into the woods, only to thrash around for a while with no luck. We came back to the road and headed down to where a fence crossed the road, and attacked from there. No luck. We hiked down along the fenceline and then attacked from there. No luck. Perhaps the CP was further into the woods than it appeared on the map. The lack of detail on the map did not help us. We finally gave up and headed to CP 64, which was along a dried stream in a bush filled ravine. Here, we tried to follow the fence to an open area in the forest, but we found lots of small unmarked open areas and had trouble figuring out how far we had gone. We decided to head into the woods to the ravine, but the ravine itself was not well-defined. At one point, we got ourselves completely disoriented so that I thought that North was in the wrong direction. At this point we decided that we should just stick to the CPs near the road. Time to leave.

On our way back to the road, we somehow reoriented ourselves and realized that the clearing to the east of the ravine actually came right against it, and allowed us to walk above the ravine on the east side and shine our flashlight down into it. We quickly found CP64 and our spirits lifted again. We had gone over two hours without finding a single CP.

The next CP, CP42, was also hard. It was in a forest opening right next to the fence next to the road, but the forest opening was actually fifty yards into the forest or so, just beyond flashlight range. After lots of wandering back and forth, we found it.

To get to CP 51, we looked for a small side trail off the road, but we walked back and forth and could not find it. We could not even find the clearing that was marking where the trail left the main road. We thrashed around in the bushes and found an unmarked road that went in the wrong directions, completely confusing us. We switched plans to go for CP71 on top of a nearby hill, so we headed back to the main road to reorient ourselves, then headed into the woods and up 800 feet of climbing to the top. We found it, an hour and a half after our previous one. Nighttime orienteering was really killing our score.

We followed the road to the CP 61, then backtracked to a streambed to head back down it (now from above) to find CP51 which we had skipped. Along the way, we zoned out and somehow made a left turn up another road for a ways before realizing what happened and turning back. This was "stupid hour", but I also blame it on our poor headlamps. I had brought along a fairly weak Petzl Tikka headlamp with dead spare batteries. Luckily I also had a handheld flashlight that was quite strong, but I had turned that off while walking along the road to save batteries, as I didn't think we needed it to hike back a road we had already been on. Needless to say, we were not paying attention and it cost us. Once we finally got to the stream bed, the CP was easy to find, as we only needed to follow the (bush-choked) stream bed down until we hit it.

At this point, we needed more water and were looking forward to some hot soup at the Hash House before psyching ourselves up for the rising sun in a few hours. We dropped back down to the main road again and headed to the Hash House, which was a left turn off the road. This time I had my flashlight out and was paying attention. After the appropriate distance, we saw another road coming in on our right rather than our left, and we realized that we were in the wrong spot. Recovering, we relocated ourselves and found that CP32 was now between us and the Hash House. Off into the woods again, we hit CP 32 and then continued on to the Hash House, pulling in at 5am.

At the Hash House, we had some soup and tried to recover for the morning. We were fairly tired from thrashing through the woods all night with little to show for it (noon-8pm: 1280 pts, 8pm-5am: 480 pts). After a few bowls of soup, refills on water and a sufficiently long break, we headed back out.

I could tell that we were tired because instead of heading straight to CP91, we hiked a road to it, slowly, and the road was twice as far. We needed to shake the torpor from our brains. From CP91 to CP 101 was another straightforward (if slow) trek, although we ran across some more confusing roads. Small roads were now big, big ones were decommissioned, and an extra unmarked road was thrown in. In the daylight, we got less confused by it all, however. To get to CP 82, we had to drop down through the woods to another road and follow it, but we ended up picking up an unmarked road instead. When it T'd into another road, we guessed where we were and followed that road up to the one we were looking for. We found the turnoff onto a smaller path to CP82, but realized this would have been difficult to see in the dark. Our strategy of the previous night of just being able to "follow the roads" had not held up very well, and I can understand why most of the other people headed for the woods during the day. And in the woods, they probably had not run out of water quite as quickly as we had. Live and learn.

From CP 82, we made a killer sidehill traverse for two kilometers along a steep slope to CP104. We tried to contour, and as we got close, we hiked up a couple hundred feet to see if we could see the ridge we were looking for. While we were fairly sure that we were not far enough yet, we threw in a steep climb and descent to/from a beautiful viewpoint to verify what we knew already. We dispatched CP104, but we were definitely moving slowly.

With two and a half hours left, we decided to head home and pick up a few easy CPs on the way back. The 1.5 km down 1000 ft of hills to CP44 took us another 40 minutes, but then we finally got our second wind and started some jogging again. We picked up a couple more CPs on the way to the Hash House, and arriving with still 40 minutes to spare, we ran out to collect CP33 and returned at 11:47am, which was our final finishing time. Total score was 2250. This was enough for us to place 3rd overall, and 1st in Open Men category.


  • It was good to leave a few of the easy CPs near the Hash House to better utilize the last half hour of our race.

  • Expect marked forest roads to be somewhat out of date.

  • You go faster when you stay hydrated

  • Don't use the corner of a clearing as an attack point, as they are much less defined in reality than they are on the 1:4000 map.

  • Bring a good headlamp/light combo

  • Keep track of paces to give you some idea of when you are way to far, if possible.

  • If you cannot find the CP, try coming up with a new strategy. If you run out of strategies, maybe its time to leave.

  • Running in the wrong direction is worse than walking in the right direction

  • Plan to come back to the Hash House once during the night. Never coming back seems too ambitious in retrospect.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Double Mt Si

While I was on the Wonderland Trail the other weekend, Andrew and Chase started a bi-weekly round of double Mt Si runs to help us prepare for the Grand Canyon run in October. This is a very popular training run for the ultra-trailrunner crowd. The trail on Mt Si is a four mile trail that switchbacks 3100 feet up the mountain. Then we turn around and head back down. Second lap is in the dark. Total distance: 16 miles, total elevation gain: 6200 feet.

My two uphill splits were 59 minutes and 1:07. I felt like I was walking an awful lot the second trip up, which is ok. That just means more room for improvement in a couple weeks.

There were a lot of ambulances and SAR people at Mt Si when we got there. A hiker/climber fell off the Haystack at the top of Mt Si earlier in the day, killing himself. News

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wonderland Trail Run

Running the whole Wonderland Trail in one push is a classic for local ultrarunners, so when on Thursday I heard that my friend Roger Michel had decided to run the trail the next morning with a couple friends of his, I dropped all of my plans and invited myself along. He was leaving for the Bay Area next week, so maybe this was his way of having a goodbye party.

Five of us met at Mowich River campground at 8:30am on Friday to start the counter-clockwise circuit: Roger, Matt, Kimberly, Ruaraidh and me. Matt's girlfriend Erin planned to meet us at White River with chicken&rice burrito wraps and run the last 25 miles with Matt; otherwise, we were totally self-supported for the whole trip.

As the weather was looking really nice, I brought a minimum of gear to keep my pack weight to 10 pounds (including 5 lb of food, but not including water weight). I brought a couple extra pairs of socks, long-sleeved shirt, wind shirt, fleece hat, knee warmers and space blanket as my backup clothing. I brought an 8000 calorie selection of food, including bars, gels, cookies, nuts, jerky, halvah, and my special no-cook couscous dinner. I brought both a headlamp and a hand-held flashlight, the latter acting as a backup light for the group.

We started strong, but by mid-afternoon, the sun and high temperatures had slowed us to a speed-walk, so our speed was best described as "casual". The views, however, were fantastic. Mount Rainier was ever present, and wild flowers were in full season. This leg was spotted with many river crossing over glacial silt filled rivers, one of which was spanned by an amazingly thin cable suspension bridge. 11 hours later we found ourselves washing up at the bathroom in Longmire, the first 33 mile leg completed.

We pushed on through the night for our 35 mile second leg, from Longmire to White River. The almost full moon rose shortly after sunset, giving us moonlit views of the mountain over Reflection Lakes. The trail to Box Canyon was recently opened (two weeks ago) and very overgrown with vegetation. Navigating at night was incredibly easy. The snowfields between Indian Bar and Panhandle Gap (the highest point, at 6800 feet) required us to search for the trail once or twice, but otherwise the Wonderland Trail is marked so well that my grandmother couldn't get lost. The trail became a bit more rugged and less runnable in this section. The sun rose as we headed down from Panhandle Gap to Summerland and White River. We found Erin waiting for us with tasty food as promised, exactly 24 hours after we left Mowich Lake the other morning. At this point, we had come up with a variety of excuses as to why not to continue, and so four of the five of us called it a day while Matt continued on with Erin to finish the route. I enjoyed a cold foot soak in the White River before we piled into Erin's car to drive it around to Mowich Lake to retrieve our cars for the sleepy ride home.

68 miles, 17000 vertical feet in 24 hours. I've never run or hiked that far in one push and was quite happy with our little journey (especially the company of friends). I'll definitely want to come back and run the whole circuit one of these days.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kayak Gear List

I meant to write down my gear list for my kayak trip last month and take some notes. My list is at the end of the post. I've spent some time reducing the size of my gear so that I can fit three weeks of food and gear into my NDK Explorer to do the trip. Hence, you might find it reads like a backpacking list.

Favorite Items:
Kokatat storm cag: When I got too cold, especially when we stopped for lunch, I could pull the storm cagoule right over everything else I was wearing (including my PFD).
Icebreaker long sleeve wool t-shirt: I wore this shirt every day. Even when it got damp, it cut the evaporative cooling off of my drysuit, and it is light enough that it doesn't get too hot.
Montbell Thermawrap jacket: This was my favorite for on shore. It was just warm enough for the wet fifty degree days, blocked some of the wind, and made a great pillow.

Ikea Bags: The blue plastic tarp reusable shopping bags at Ikea. They cost $2 at Ikea and are very small when packed. Great when we have to carry all of our gear up across slimy rocks during a low tide launch or landing.

Items I would change:
My Prolite pad was too thin for sleeping on for two weeks after paddling all day. I got knots in my neck and back. I would use an air mattress like the OR AirMat, although I had problems with the valve on this particular brand on a previous trip. Other companies sell similar products, however.

My BD Lighthouse tent started leaking after a couple years of hard use. I should have reapplied the seam sealer before the trip. For a more bomb-proof tent, I would get the El Dorado; however, it is a bit bulkier and heavier.
Kayak Gear for Prince Rupert – Port Hardy Kayak Trip

Kokatat gortex drysuit w/relief zipper, gortex booties attached
Kokatat bib (gortex overalls)
Paclite gortex paddling jacket (should take Kokatat TecTour instead)
Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero gortex hat
Glacier Gloves (waterproof 2mm neoprene)
NRS paddle wetshoes
Reed sprayskirt
Northwater tow-belt (worn around waist)
Kokatat MS Fit PFD
Reed chillcheater balaclava (slightly itchy – other neoprene balaclava instead?)
Kokatat storm cagoule
2 pairs nylon pants
Icebreaker 140 weight wool long-sleeve shirt
Short-sleeve rashguard top
Long-sleeve synthetic top
2 pairs socks (wool/synthetic)
1 pair synthetic sock liners
2 pairs synthetic underwear
Water shoe slippers w/tread (shore shoes)
Synthetic long johns top / bottom
Fleece hat
Montbell UL Thermawrap jacket (synthetic down)

Other Kayak-related Gear:
Paddle float (behind seat)
Quart-sized Ziploc (behind seat)
Foam Seat (Redfish Kayaks)
Sponge (behind seat)
Bilge pump (held by bungees in cockpit under deck)
Henderson foot pump (mounted behing footpegs)
Deck Compass (mounted forward front deck)
Waterproof watch (attached to PFD)
Boye cobalt knife on carabiner (front pocket PFD)
Whistle (attached to zipper PFD)
ACR strobe (attached to back of PFD)
Icom M88 VHF radio in Aquapac (in pocket on back of PFD)
Contact tow (2 carabiners attached to 3 feet of cord) on deck
Werner Ikelos 215 cm carbon bent-shaft paddle
Hatch covers for all hatches
Charts / tide tables
Boat-carry strap (Andrew carried this for group)

Camping Gear:
Black Diamond Lighthouse single-wall tent w/ground sheet (no stakes)
Western Mountaineering Hi-lite down sleeping bag (35 degree)
Thermarest Prolite 4 ¾ length pad (bring inflatable air mattress instead)
Small synthetic camp towel (for wiping condensation in tent)
10’ by 8’ silnylon tarp (used when tent had leaks due to bad seam sealing)

Food/Cooking Gear:
MSR pocket rocket stove w/compressed gas cannisters
1.5 liter titanium pot
Small titanium bowl
Nalgene bottle
2 MSR dromedaries (2.5 gallon each)
Plastic spoon
¼ sponge w/ itsy bitsy soap bottle
2 lighters
Aluminum foil (for windscreen)
Aqua Mira purification droplets
Bear hanging kit (2 pulleys, 2 carabiners, 2 50’ lengths Aircore spectra cord)
AlokSak odor-proof plastic bags to hold food
BearVault (clear plastic bear canister that fits in round hatches of our kayaks)
2 UrSaks (spectra sacks to protect food from bears)

Other Safety Gear:
Parachute flare
Smoke flare
Greatland laser flare
ACR signal mirror
Satellite phone (one for group: carried by Roy)

Repair Gear:
Fiberglass repair kit
Drysuit gasket repair kit
First Aid kit (incl. seasickness meds)
303 protectant (for drysuit gaskets)
Ziptech zipper lube
Duct tape
Zip ties
Extra lithium AA and AAA batteries
Whipping cord / needle
2 trash compactor bags
Multi tool
5 feet of shock cord/bungee
Aquaseal (in drysuit gasket repair kit)

Miscellaneous Gear:
Toiletries (toothbrush/paste, razor, TP, comb, vitamins)
Princeton Tec Headlamp (waterproof)
Extra sunglasses/sunscreen/lip balm
Watch w/alarm
WxTex 5 liter drybags w/valve
OR Hydroseal drybags -size #1,#2 (better than Hydrolite)
3 Ikea bags (blue tarp bags) for carrying gear
Pentax Optio WP digital camera (waterproof) w/float attached
25 feet Triptease lightweight cord
Money / credit card / passport
Waterproof journal, pencil

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Grand Canyon R2R2R on the calendar

Chase, Andrew and I bought plane tickets to go to Las Vegas October 18th - October 22nd, with plans to drive down to the Grand Canyon and do the Rim to Rim to Rim run, one of the classic trail runs on our "Must Run" list. We'll stay at the Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim on October 19th/20th and do the run on the 20th. I'm looking forward to it.

Now it is time to start running some hills, as I've fallen out of running shape the last few months. R2R2R is 12000+' of vertical gain, which is about the equivalent of four loops up Mount Si. Starting next week, we'll do a double loop of Mount Si every other Thursday to get some steep hill climbing practice on the schedule. I need to start putting in some base mileage as well.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Kayaking Down the Outer BC Coast

Kayaking Prince Rupert to Port Hardy (July 6th - July 21st)

I made plans with Andrew Feucht and Roy Massena to kayak down the BC coast from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy between July 6th and July 27th, 2008. We have done a few trips before, and worked like a well-oiled machine. Roy made all the charts, Andrew made ferry reservations, and I made sure I showed up. I was very happy with all of the work they put into making this trip happen.

July 6th (start – 2 days):
We met at Andrew’s house at an insanely early hour. We each packed as if we were doing the trip solo, so we each had our own tent, cook kit, and any necessary food and gear. Roy brought a satellite phone, with which we gave brief updates to our friends back home, as well as receiving surf forecasts via text message from Wayne back home. And we each had a VHF marine radio in a pouch on the back of our PFD in case of emergency.
Our bags packed, we drove and ferried 10 hours to Port Hardy where we stayed at the increasingly dilapidated Seagate Motel. It has definitely seen better days.

July 7th (start – 1 day):
We woke up at 3:30am to move kayaks and gear to the ferry terminal, 10km from town. Andrew drove his truck back to town to park it in a secure spot, and then caught the shuttle back to the ferry for our 7:30am departure. The BC ferry took us 15 hours up the coast to Prince Rupert, giving us a glimpse along the way of some of the terrain through which we would be going. We arranged for Joe from Skeena Kayaking to pick us up at the ferry terminal at 10:30pm when we got in, and he let us stay at his house for the night (a First Nations Elders conference had filled all the hotels). He is a self-taught kayak guide, and has a contract to do kayak tours for the two weekly cruise ships that come into town. He was a very nice, friendly guy to his fellow kayakers.

Day 1: Prince Rupert to Head Point (19 miles, 6.5 hours)

Busy in the morning, Joe let us use his truck to drive our kayaks down to the put-in spot, and said that he’d pick it up later. Before launch, we visited the museum for some local culture. We also posted our kayak wheels back home. One set was too big for the box we had. I decided to leave them with Joe, but Andrew managed to sell them to a guy at the post office for $27.

On the water at noon, we fought current, wind, rain and fog to make it to Head Point on Porcher Island by 7:30pm. I had a hard time keeping up with Andrew and Roy, and my elbows and fingers were hurting due to yanking on my carbon paddle shaft too aggressively. And this was only Day 1 *sigh*. I told them we needed to tone it down a bit for a few days, and my tendonitis eased off. Hopefully, the rain would ease off as well, as setting up camp in the rain is no fun. I am eating a lot more food than I expected. I must be still trying to work out of my calorie deficit from Primal Quest. I hope my 20 days of food lasts for the whole trip.

Day 2: Head Point to Groschen Island (28 miles, 9 hours)

Rain starts again once we are on the water. We round Porcher Island and see the open ocean for the first time. The swell is mild. There is nobody else on the outside coast. We camp next to a creek, and hang our food in case of bears. I have an elaborate pulley system that makes hanging 100 pounds of food a relative breeze. We are also camped below the driftwood that chokes the back of the beach, as there is no upland camping here. Luckily, the moon is half full and there is room between the current high tide line and the beach logs tonight. If we were to arrive a few days later, we would have to look for a different beach, though.

Day 3: Groschen Island to Bonilla Island (22 miles, 6.5 hours)

We make a 10 nm crossing over to Banks Island, the longest crossing any of us have ever done. The weather is very favorable. Once on Banks Island, we decide to cross another 6nm over to Bonilla Island, where we really feel like we are offshore. Bonilla Island does not have any puffins (I was hoping to see some), but has a lighthouse, and some fairly nice beaches. Sunshine in the evening on our campsite makes for an enjoyable end to an enjoyable day. Our surf forecast says that the swell height is going to stay at about 3 feet for the next three days, and as we are also tucked behind the Queen Charlottes (50 miles to the west), swell might even be more moderated in this area. I see porpoises.

Day 4: Bonilla Island to Wreck Islands/central Banks (24.5 miles, 7.5 hours)

We get up at 5am and launch at 7am, which becomes a fairly normal schedule for us. An ebb current appears to run south along the outside of Banks, and we catch this current for much of the day. At midday, a lone wolf watches us from shore. Otherwise, there is nothing here. The trees bend over, stubby and windswept. Little wildlife lives here, and no signs of other people exist. A whale surfaces near us. Roy thinks it is a harbor whale, as it looks like a dolphin on steroids, with a small dorsal fin. Our campsite is a long carry over sharp rocks, definitely zero stars. There are really no good campsites on the outside of Banks. Sand flies also infest our campsite, which we did not truly comprehend when we run into them. They seem to act like gnats in that they land on you but don’t bite. We later discovered that they are biting us and sucking our blood, and that they have left itchy welts as bad as mosquitoes. They have a single-minded determination to steal our blood, and they are not even distracted by death as we snub them out with our fingers and thumbs. Sand flies are evil. I make couscous with limpets, nori and kelp with a garnish of sea lettuce. When I clean the limpets (it is more trouble than it is worth for such small tidbits of meat), I am amazed to see how quickly crabs and little fishes come in the struggle over the bits of meat on the limpet shells as I drop them into the water. It only rained for a few minutes today.

Day 5: Wreck Islands to South Banks (23 miles, 8 hours)

It rains all day. To get off our beach, all three of us carry each kayak over slippery rocks to the water, and we load the kayaks while knee deep in water as there is really no beach on which to stand. We also get some real wind and waves today, so we really get the outer coast feel. There are very few beaches, although we run across a huge wide creek that seemed totally out of place in this desolate area. We fill up with water. We have seen nobody for three days. We camp on a sand beach where water seeps out of the sand from a creek somewhere back in the woods. We camp above the water seeps, but below the drift logs at the top of the beach. On the water, I barely keep warm with my wool shirt and short-sleeve rashguard underneath my drysuit. I occasionally wear a Reed balaclava to keep my head warm, and this helps. I go to sleep at 8:30, two hours before it gets dark. My usual bed time is probably about 9pm.

Day 6: South Banks to Campania (28 miles, 9.25 hours)
I saw a mink on the beach at breakfast. I am eating oatmeal to celebrate that it is not raining. I eat oatmeal for some breakfasts and granola for others. Both Andrew and Roy eat only cold breakfasts of granola or muesli for the whole trip.

We cross over to Trutch Island, then through a sheltered passage to the south called Langley Passage. It is a totally different world in here. We feel like we are kayaking on a lake. The trees are not windblown like those on the outside coast. Two sports fisherman speed by in their boats. The area feels like the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota except for the occasional piece of kelp floating past us. We eventually come out into Estevan Sound and cross to Campania Island to the east. Here we camp on a large wide sandy beach with a stream and a dripping waterfall where we bathe and shave. During dinner, we see a cruise ship head up Estevan Sound. I bet they’re not serving kelp-a-roni on the cruise ships, as I like to call my kelp-enhanced macaroni and cheese. Sand flies eat us alive on this beach, and follow us into the bay in the morning. My neck is all bumps.

Day 7: Campania to Clifford Bay (31.5 miles, 8 hours)
Crossing Caamano Sound to Aristazabal Island (7nm or so), we see many humpback whales. A group of five crosses in front of us a couple hundred yards away, then one after another, they each lift their tail in the air and dive for the bottom. We see more whales on the north side of Aritstazabal, but the tidal currents are pulling us west around the outside of Rennison Island. We wander through the islets offshore from Aristazabal when we come across fishermen in a boat moored to a buoy, halibut fishing. I joke about getting out my beer net in hopes of getting a beer from these guys. We talk with them and they offer us an 8 pound coho. We say yes. We chase after some humpbacks for a while before landing on a beach to butcher the salmon. Andrew names me “Skinner”, as I fillet the salmon while they make a hot couscous lunch and humpbacks tease us from just offshore. I cube half the salmon and save it for dinner. It is nice to leave all the blood and guts here at our lunch camp away from where we will be sleeping tonight.

After lunch, we catch a favorable wind and ebb current, and we fly down the coast to Clifford Bay. Providence rewards us with a beautiful camping spot on an island spit with no bugs! I call Kathy on the satellite phone to say hi. We are making very good progress, and despite a bit of rain, the weather (i.e. wind) has been good and the currents favorable so far.

Day 8: Clifford Bay to Kayak Bills (16.5 miles, 5.5 hours)

After a couple hours of kayaking today, I feel dead. I suggest we take the afternoon off rather than make a 6nm crossing to Price Island, and Andrew and Roy quickly agree. We spend some time searching for a reasonably camp spot on the south tip of Aristazabal, and by chance we find a small sandy cove that seems perfect. Roy spots a windbreak in the bushes, and when we investigate, we discover that this one of Kayak Bill’s campsites.
(See Sea Kayaker magazine October 2005 for article on Kayak Bill, who used to winter out in these parts and died in 2004). There is a windbreak, planks for a bed, a few shelves, a fire bit, and a pile of mussel and clam shells. Floats mark a path into the woods which when followed lead to a small watering hole where he got his fresh water. We are excited to find this small piece of history.

I rest in the heat of the afternoon inside my tent eating peanut M&Ms. The sun is strong. Andrew still has tons of food, and feeds me cheese and chocolate. I am still eating much more than I expected, and my original twenty days of food has dwindled by half. There are still bugs, and Roy and I dress in mosquito netting, and we try wearing latex gloves to keep sand flies off of our hands. I imagine Andrew standing next to us in our hazmat suits saying: “And I thought you said this was a super-fun site…”.

Day 9: Kayak Bill to Dallas Island (28 miles, 8.5 hours)

We cross Laredo Sound between Aristazabal and Price Islands early in the morning. Fog conceals Price Island, but we stay on a compass bearing and the fog burns off by the time we get there. We cut through Higgins Passage, where we encounter a group of three Canadian women kayak camping who have been out here for two weeks. They are the first kayakers of our whole trip (and we will see only one other couple out here kayaking before we finish our trip). We leave Higgins Passage and cross along the back of Milbanke Sound. We see whales in the distance, but never get close. Whales seem to like these sounds between the ocean and the inlets to the inner islands. We also see the BC ferry go by for the first time, as we are finally reconverging with the Inside Passage route taken by the ferries and most cruise ships up to Prince Rupert and Alaska.

On Dallas Island we find nice sandy beaches all the way to low tide and beautiful panoramic views. There is also a Kayak Bill site in the trees here behind the beach, and it has many tarps over it and lots of trash strewn around. I am sure that this site has been used and abused by campers in the years since Kayak Bill died. It is in our guidebook, and easy to find by the casual kayaker, so it does not generate in us the excitement that the site that we found yesterday did. A trail leads off into the woods. Andrew and I follow it across mossy wood planks over skunk cabbage and past a culturally modified tree. It looks like it takes a tour of the island. We camp on an islet facing Dallas Island that also has a beautiful sand beach and faces windward (no bugs!). My tent is dry for the first time when I wake up in the morning. It normally has condensation all over it, even on nice mornings.

Day 10: Dallas Island to Gosling Island (33 miles, 9.75 hours)

Today is a long day, so we get up at 4:30am launch by 6am. We kayak down the coast and take a “shortcut” between Athlone and Dufferin Islands. It is marked with two tidal rapids and we are interested in seeing what that entails. We hit the first tidal rapids about three hours after low tide, and it is still ebbing. There is maybe a thirty foot rapids and a one foot rise over a few rocks. We pull over and tie a leash to our boats, and then pull them through. Lots of amazingly beautiful sea life is visible here. It reminds me of Burnaby Narrows in the Queen Charlotte Islands. I pull sea slugs and funny little insect-like critters off the rocks and play with them.

We cross the lake behind the rapids, then hit the rapids on the other side just as it is turning. Farther on we run into a brief current against us that is starting to generate small whirlpools in the eddies, but soon afterwards. The currents in this area are strong and varied. We exit the narrow channel back into the ocean again, having successfully navigated our rapids up and down.

Next, we make an open crossing to the McMillan Islands, and wind and swell make it very exciting. The combined swell is running at four to five feet, and we are getting tossed around some, just enough to make it fun. On the east side of McMillan is a beautiful sandy-bottomed lagoon with sandy beaches. It is a definite must-see. We island hop through this island group, then make another 2nm crossing to Goose Island and down its inside coast to Gosling Island. Another couple is already camped on the sand spit on which we were planning to stay. There is enough room, but Roy really likes having his own space, so we camp around the corner on another less scenic beach. There is no real shortage of sandy beaches in this area. We are in the Hakai Recreation Area now, and I can see why this area is popular with kayakers. The beaches are all sandy and beautiful, and the weather has certainly improved since we were up north, too.
A large family is also camped on a beach across from us, having sailed in on a large catamaran. It feels crowded. We plan to do a shorter day tomorrow, so Andrew demands that we sleep in until 6:30. We all agree.

Day 11: Gosling Island to Wolf Beach (25 miles, 6.5 hours)

We leave Gosling to make a crossing of Queens Sound, and the northwest wind beckons us to turn and run downwind. We cross diagonally downwind and make very good time, so good, in fact, that we decide to paddle all the way to Wolf Beach today. We stop for lunch at a beach I call Lumber Jack Beach, although it will definitely not make it into any guidebooks any time soon. Logs completely fill the rocky shore and are floating in the water when we land. During our stay, the tide rises and more logs start floating. We struggle to get back into our kayaks amongst the floating logs and get off the beach. Wandering through the Hunter Island Group, I imagine that this would be a good area to explore for an intermediate kayaker. You can poke your head out into the ocean if you want, but there are many islands and islets to explore and retreat behind if the weather gets rough. There is also a resort near here where one could plan a one night stay in the middle of your trip to freshen up. We see a few sea otters, as we have the last couple days. They seem to show up in ones or twos here and there.

I was awed when we made it to Wolf Beach. Earlier clouds have burned off, leaving a hot sun, and the water was crystal clear. Tiny, clear surf waves lapped the beach, which curved in an arc for a full mile. And we are the only people here. Sweet! I head to find a creek down the beach to wash myself and my clothes. Andrew and Roy change into their South Seas beach attire. There are wolf tracks on the beach in spots.

Roy tries signaling me with his signal mirror when I am lounging and he is down by the creek. It works great and is almost blinding. The ACR signal mirror has some extra features that make it easy to aim and use, and it definitely attracts attention. I might need to get one.

We see a wolf in the morning after we launch.

Day 12: Wolf Beach to Kelp Head (33 miles, 11.5 hours)

Our trip around Dublin Point was difficult and bouncy. The waves bouncing off the cliffs are causing klapotis. Current and wind are against us now, and all we have are memories of the sun. We struggle along the coast and stop for a break after realizing that we have been going only one mile per hour. A little further south, however, the current lets go of us, and later the wind dies down. We pull into Grief Bay on the south end of the island in a misty, calm fog. Andrew suggests we push on across the Sound, and after a few snacks and a rest, Roy and I agree. The weather report tomorrow is for headwinds, so we decide to get the long crossing out of the way now. We cross 6nm in a growing mist, losing sight of the opposing shore a few times. A humpback whale surfaces some distance off, then surprises us by later surfacing 30 yards to my right. We are three miles from the nearest land. We approach Kelp Head and watch the serious wave action going on. The swell is bigger now, maybe 5 feet, but it is a soft low frequency wave that exhibits the same sense of calmness that is in the air. We head south a few kilometers to a campsite that John Walpole camped in a few years before when he did his trip up here (Roy has marked many campsites on our charts for easy reference).

Day 13: Kelp Head to Shelter Bay (33 miles, 9.5 hours)

Today we round Cape Caution. It is located in a spot where different current converge, and several of the beaches near it can become closed out by large swell, so it can be a little tricky at times. We try to time our rounding of the Cape at slack, but due to a small head wind, we are slow. We slog through the headwind and the start of a flood current against us until we reach the Cape and catch a different flood, going our direction this time, down Queen Charlotte Strait. We ride it while it lasts, then push our way onward to Shelter Bay, where rain and sand flies greet us on the beach for our going away party. Wet sand is evil, and gets into everything, but I don’t care much any more. Port Hardy lies a few island hops to the south across Queen Charlotte Strait, and we will be there tomorrow.

Day 14: Shelter Bay to Port Hardy (21 miles, 6 hours)

We wake up early, 4am and head out. The ebb current runs strong in spots, but we are mostly traveling perpendicular to it, so it does not become too much of a problem. As we reach the main channel at 7am, two cruise ships pass by. They were probably heading out of Port Hardy this morning. They quickly disappear, as they move at 20 knots. We cross all the channels without incident.

We pull up at a familiar beach in Port Hardy, just beside the Seagate Motel where we stayed two weeks ago, and also a short walk from the Odyssey Sea Kayak shop where the owners are watching our car. Andrew goes to get the car while we unload all of our now very wet-looking gear. Only 10 more hours of driving now and we are home.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oceanic Does Primal Quest Montana 2008

Primal Quest Montana June 23rd - July 2nd, 2008

A month late, but I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can sit down and write about my Primal Quest experience. I went to Primal Quest this year with team Oceanic Interactive, a team put together by my Mergeo teammate Dave Russell, which also included two east coast teammates whom neither of us had ever physically met before. When I signed up for this race in January, I had never done an adventure race longer than 6 hours long. Could I/we pull it all together and make this work?

Wednesday, June 18th:

Kathy and I loaded up the car and head off to Montana for Primal Quest – yay! The whole back of the car is filled with gear, and the bike is on a newly installed rack on the roof. An hour later, my car died at the top of Snoqualmie Pass. Abort Mission! Kathy called AAA to tow us back to North Bend. I called Wayne to come pick us up and take us home again.

Thursday, June 19th:

Kathy and I loaded up her car to head to Montana – Take 2.
This time, everything goes smoothly, and we arrived in Bozeman in the evening. Kathy is planning on staying until Sunday and will fly back, and I will drive her car back after Primal Quest is over.

Friday, June 20th:

Kathy and I went for a hike from the “M” trailhead up to the big M on Bridger Ridge. It is beautiful out here. I hiked further up the ridge, but it is never-ending, and I eventually got tired and turned around. Total time for hike: 1.5 hours. Time for a nap. I blamed my lack of energy on the altitude, which is only about 5000’ in Bozeman, about the low point of the whole race.

Kathy and I drove to Big Sky and met up with JD and his friend John, who had driven the RV up from Salt Lake City. We unloaded a bunch of unneeded items from the RV and packed them into John’s truck before John returned home. Being able to borrow an RV is really sweet, saving us a load of cash. Dave showed up, as did Warren and Kristine, our support crew. Warren volunteered to go pick up Kristen, who is flying into Bozeman at midnight or so, after her plane is delayed for many hours.

Saturday, June 21st:

The team is all here: Dave, JD, Kristen and myself. I have never met JD and Kristen before. Dave knew Kristen through an online training program (she was the coach), but he has never physically met JD or Kristen either. We bond.

Today we do skills and gear check. JD brought an amazing amount of stuff and had extras of everything, of which I borrowed elbow pads for riverboarding. I lent him a lightweight climbing sling. We all had our gear fairly well organized, a good start. Climbing skills involved ascending up to the top of a ski lift tower and rappelling back down. Kayak/riverboarding skills were on a nearby lake. We floated in the water to verify that our wetsuits were warm enough. The actual water will be ten degrees colder than the lake, however.

Kathy gets to meet the team. Warren and Kristine hiked up and down Lone Peak several times to scout it out for the team, although we will end up following a required trail that is well marked by the footprints of the people in front of us.

Sunday, June 22nd:

Time to sit around and fidget with gear. Dave’s friend Clint arrived. He is a key member of our crew, as he is a PT, bike mechanic and amateur photographer.
Our crew is great, and will be driving around in an RV and meeting us at the transition areas (TAs) in the RV to feed us, put us to bed, wake us up and gear us up as we switch from activity to activity. My father brought me a birthday cake, although my birthday is not until Wednesday. We ate the cake now. Sugar is good.

At the race meeting at 6pm, we heard about different legs of the race, and then got a really cool “flyover” video of the race. It is basically what we’ve seen from the publically available Document of Decision from the Forest Service. Unfortunately, in order to get the permits, PQ staff had to reveal the general layout of the course (at least the part through Forest Service/BLM land) to allow the public to comment on it. I had studied Forest Service maps and had a general feel for the route ahead of time, which helped make our map work a little easier.
Here is the race as presented in the pre-race meeting:

Trek: 200 miles 50,000 vert. feet
Bike: 210 miles 15,000 vert. feet
Riverboard: 10 miles
River Kayak: 72 miles
WW Kayak: 25 miles
Orienteer: 10 miles ??? vert feet

After the race, they handed us a huge set of maps and we raced back to the RV to eat and do the map work. Dave and I plotted out all the CPs and marked a route. We actually finished at a reasonable hour (10pm or so?). I thought it was going to take longer. I slept well.

Monday, June 23rd: We lined up at the start line at 9am. The first leg took us to the top of Lone Peak and back down again. Big Sky is at 7500 feet, and Lone Peak is above 11100 feet, so we got to do some serious high altitude vertical climbing right out of the starting gate. The fog burned off right before 9am, and the sun shone as we start. A helicopter flew around filming the start and fans cheered. Everyone is stoked and enthusiastic.

After this point, one day melds into another….

Leg 1: Climb to Lone Peak and back to Big Sky ( 10 miles, 4.5 hours)
The gun went off and we followed the crowd up the ski slope. Once we hiked past the ski lifts, we followed a ridge to the peak. Handlines were placed along the ridge in a few spots to protect us the steep cliff immediately to our right. Teams backed up waiting for the team in front of them to move along, but it was reasonably brief. After arriving at the top of Lone Peak, we checked in (almost all of the checkpoints (CPs) are manned and require us to check in), and then headed down along a different snow-covered ridge to a steep snowfield for some good glissading. We used trash compactor bags as makeshift sleds. I enjoyed being able to go downhill without using my feet, as I knew that I would abuse them more than enough later.
Some trekking, brief jogging and glissading got us back to Big Sky in 4 ½ hours in the top half of the field. JD was a tow-monster, carrying some extra team gear and towing Kristen in spots as well.

Leg 2: Big Sky to Gallatin River – Trek (35 miles, 14 hours)
Our crew met us with sandwiches and we headed off again in high spirits. The passport typically gives a suggested route for the legs, and there are occasional routes that are marked as mandatory. The route described in this leg was not mandatory, so we took a short cut up a ski slope to Beehive Basin instead of taking a roundabout road and managed to sneak ahead of a few other teams. This small coup early in the race felt good and raised our spirits for the grueling eight days ahead. As we were following a road a while later, we ran into two guys with PQ shirts on who unexpectedly directed us onto a trail, as the route I marked continued on roads. Maybe there was private property ahead on which they didn’t want us? In any case, we came upon CP 4 almost by accident, as it was not in the correct spot, but was at a different, earlier trail intersection a mile to the WNW. We continued on to the original site of CP4 just to verify that it wasn’t there also. This was the only CP that we found was oddly out of place.

We followed trails back down to Big Sky Meadow Village. We stopped at a shop to refill water and have a couple Gatorades, then headed on up to the Ousel Falls trailhead and back into the wilderness again. When the trail on our map turned out to be non-existent, we ended up too close to the Falls and not where we wanted to be. Several other teams arrived there with us. We knew where we wanted to be, so we started heading up a forest road then did some cross country trekking to get there. It looks like there were a few new roads, including paved ones that had fire hydrants installed, so I think that they were putting in a new subdivision here and the foot trail we were looking for on the map no longer existed. In any case, we were reminded that you need to keep an open mind about things. Now on Mule Creek, we settled in for a long slow uphill trek to a pass at 9500 feet.
We arrived at the pass just before dark. Both Dave and Kristen were feeling nauseous, and blamed it on the water that they were given at the last TA. In retrospect, it was probably altitude related. Dave vomited, and then said he felt better. I was unconvinced and a bit worried about this turn of events on Day 1, as already half the team was sick and we had not even finished the first trek yet. Ugh.

We followed a foot trail down the Buck Creek drainage through melting snow and water-logged ground. Snow level is in the 8000 foot range, with lots of runoff. At the bottom of the valley we turned onto a forest road that crossed the creek; however, it had been decommissioned, and there was no bridge across the cold icy waters. The creek seemed too high and fast moving to try to wade across in the middle of the night. Are we really supposed to do this? Yes, this was the first of many, many sketchy creek crossing that we would be doing on the course. JD went across a very skinny downed tree to make it to the other side as I pleaded with him to come back. The rest of us were definitely not crossing that way. Once on the other side, he was disconcertingly out of earshot over the roar of the creek. Did I mention it was the middle of the night also? We looked further down the creek and found some larger trees to scoot across; meanwhile, JD found that the forest road continued on and saw footprints in the dirt, which seemed to indicate a good sign. JD was always looking for footprints – he was definitely the hunter/tracker type – and his route finding ability would definitely help us move faster in future days.

We traversed along the other side of the valley for several miles. At this point, I became the main navigator (for the rest of the event), as Dave was feeling ill. I spent a lot of my effort here making sure I knew which ridge we were rounding or side valley we were contouring across, as it was dark and there were occasional spur forest roads that split off the road. We caught up with another team that was unsure where to go. They were at an intersection pondering whether to head down the wrong forest road back towards the river, and we left them to decide as we continued on. I tried to looked confused myself so that they wouldn’t follow too quickly behind us. Once over a pass, we veered off onto a side hiking trail that went down to the Taylor Creek drainage, then out a road to TA #2. We struggled in at 5am, quite tired by the all day and night trekking of the first two legs.
When we checked in, we saw a list of all the teams who were in front of us. We might have been 14th at this point, as we had passed several teams and set a reasonable pace.

The next leg, the inflatable kayak/riverboard section, opened at 5:30am. Wanting to get some rest, we quickly ate, then slept until 9:30 am. Did I mention how nice it was to have a crew that made us hot food and woke us up? Clint also worked on feet, which became a valuable service as the race wore on.

Leg 3: Gallatin River -- Inflatable Kayak aka “Ducky” (25 miles, 3 hours)
I have only been in a ducky once before, so I let JD steer while I sat in front. Despite all my kayak training, I cannot steer one of these things. They are wide flat-bottomed inflatables which will spin in a circle if you do a sweep stroke. I am better in front where I can just concentrate on going forward.

This section was fun, and fairly relaxing except for a few brief moments. One was when Dave became indecisive about on which side of a debris choked island in the middle of the river he wanted to pass, and he changed his mind at the last second. They paddled hard and barely made it around the left edge of a strainer, catching a little bit of wood to the back of their kayak as a log almost caught them. We later saw a video of another ducky that was trapped here, and the team had to be rescued. The other moment was going over one of the bigger rapids; our ducky went vertical and my feet, which I had tried to wedge into the sides of the ducky, actually flew over my head. I was briefly airborne, but landed squarely back in my seat. A couple other teams were not so lucky here and had to be fished out of the river.

Leg 4: Gallatin River – Riverboarding Epic (9 miles, 1.5 hours)
After the duckies, Kristin was getting cold in her 3mm wetsuit, and she wasn’t even in the water yet. I gave her my dry suit, which made her look like a puffy doll. At least she didn’t succumb to hypothermia. I had a 5mm wetsuit that was quite comfy, and I put on my Reed dry top as well for the riverboard section.

The PQ volunteer who sent us off told us that there was a medical check a quarter mile down stream on the right at which we were required to stop, but there wasn’t. It was actually 4 miles downstream. We later called this race Information Quest.. JD was lagging behind us even when we were floating down the river without kicking. It turns out that his kneepads were some funky BMX kneepad that was only attached below the knee, and the protective knee cup actually got pulled back by the current and acted as if he were pulling a bucket through the water. I went back to check on him a few times, and later found him writhing in pain on his riverboard. He had turned his kneepads around so that the cup did not drag, but then bashed his now unprotected knee on a rock as he went through a hole. I imagined him not being able to walk the next trekking section. OK, so now we have two nauseous people and a cripple, and it’s only been the first 24 hours. Come on, people, keep it together.

After a mandatory portage of House Rock, we hit the “Mad Mile” which was a long series of serious rapids. I saw a board floating down the river without a person on it, and I tried to capture it. Just then, a girl floated down the river without a board and asked me for help. I grabbed her and got her close to the side of the river. Even then, it was moving along at 10 mph and we had to float awhile before and eddy appeared and I got her into it. Kristen showed up and stayed with her, and I headed out to find her board. Dave had captured it, thinking it was JD’s, and had it in the next eddy downstream. I was able to hike the board back up to the girl and reunite her with it.

The misinformed volunteer had also told us that the takeout for the riverboarding section was on river right; however, there was a PQ banner on the left which suggested we stay on that side, but I didn’t realize that we were at the takeout (on the left) until two guys started waving and threw a throw bag at me. “I didn’t know I was in trouble until they threw the throwbag at me”, I remember thinking later. Then I started to get worried. I managed to pull into the bushes shortly downstream from the takeout and grabbed Kristen’s leg as she overshot the takeout as well, pulling her in. We hiked out through the bushes. JD, who hadn’t helped with the rescue, was at the TA way ahead of us, with threats of penalty since we hadn’t stayed together, but given the chaos on the riverboarding section, I think that the staffers were happy that we all got off the water safely. As we crossed a bridge over the river to the TA, we saw a couple riverboards float down the river past the TA. More carnage was happening upstream.
By the time we changed, ate and got ready for the next trekking leg, PQ staff had closed the riverboard section to the rest of the teams, as it was too risky. There were a couple teams stranded on the wrong side of the river, teams without boards, etc. A lot of water was moving down that river and they had promised us it would be epic. It was.

Leg 5: Shenango to Trail Creek – Trek (45 miles, 22 hours)

We started at 4:30pm (on 6/24) with a hike up the road to Telegraph Ridge, which was a steep climb up a road that turned into a disappearing trail over blown down trees. JD found a large glass insulator from an old telegraph line and carried it for the rest of the trek. He also collected any trash he found. We topped out climbing through snow to a shallow saddle just as the sun went down, and then changed into warmer nighttime clothes while we caught the view. We dropped down another drainage to CP11, which was a little tricky to find. The tracks came out onto a road which looked like the road intersection that was at the correct elevation, but the correct road intersection was a couple hundred meters further on. We spent some time wandering about before we continued on to the correct spot. All those tracks in the snow will just confuse the people behind us even more, heh heh.
More forest roads led to a trail down Wheeler Gulch. I’m beginning to learn that trails on the map are anything but. A lot of these trails are half covered in snow, indiscernible, or covered in downed trees, if not erased by creeks trickling from the snowmelt. Wheeler Gulch dumped us into Cottonwood Creek where once more we had to figure out how to get across a fairly significant creek without a bridge. Upstream a ways, it looked like a couple fallen trees were made for crossing the creek, and we crossed over onto a clear trail that went up Cottonwood Creek.

Kristen had recovered from yesterday’s nausea, but Dave was still vomiting and nauseous. When we came to a sign for a cabin on the map, I thought we could stop and get out of the cold dampness for an hour or two. The cabin was not right next to the trail as marked, but was off on a spur trail that took us much further than expected. After twenty wasted minutes, we found the cabin, locked. Du-oh! I will call this “the cabin incident”, and “remember the cabin incident” was my euphemism for “I think we’re tired and getting stupid – is this really a good idea?”. In any case, we continued on, a little more tired. We went up and over a snowy pass, then bivvied on the other side for an hour just below the snow line, waking up shivering at dawn. (bivvied = lie down on the cold ground. We didn’t think about pulling out the tent or the sleeping bag that we were carrying). It was still a long hike past Mystic Lakes and Bear Lakes to the next TA. One of my navigation highlights was that I recognized that even though we were following a very well defined trail at one point, that trail went down a different valley than was marked on the map. Both valleys hit the main logging road at the bottom in slightly different spots so it was more of an intellectual exercise than anything. However, we did see another team up at the pass wandering around off trail as if they were looking for a non-existent trail down the correct valley. In the Bear Lakes area, the navigation was also tricky as there were more trails than were marked on the map. We kept playing leapfrog with another team that would get ahead of us, then wander off in the wrong direction, then catch up with us again and get ahead of us, and then wander off in the wrong direction again. We were slow, as Dave was feeling really ill again and even wondering if he would have to drop out, but we were steady and fairly accurate in our navigation. We eventually arrived at the Trail Creek TA in the afternoon. This was an unmanned TA, and our crew had left our bikes and bike gear for us to ride down to Carbella on the Yellowstone, thirty-some miles away. Everything had been lying in the sun and was very hot and melty. I heard that another team had a Coca Cola bottle explode in their pack here due to the heat.

Leg 6: Trail Creek to Carbella -- Bike (34 miles, 3 hours)

The bike leg turned out to be really easy, as it was mostly flat/downhill. Several miles before the TA, however, we were caught by a thunderstorm and thoroughly soaked. Lightning was flashing all over, and the power lines next to us buzzed when lightning got too close. I was a little worried, but we soldiered on, and we pulled into TA 6 just in time for dinner. Today is my birthday.

Leg 7: Carbella to Big Timber – Bike (74 miles, 5.5 hours)
This was supposed to be a kayak leg, but with the Yellowstone moving at 10 mph, they decided to turn into a bike leg. Lots of standing waves and serious eddy lines with whirlpools along the edge of the 75 mile section of river would have made paddling dangerous, and they could not provide sufficient safety personnel in case someone flipped.

We caught a few hours of sleep and headed out for this bike leg at midnight or so. We all felt really good on this leg, and Dave was feeling better and so decided to continue on, although he had earlier flirted with the possibility of dropping out and letting the rest of us continue on unranked. We all fell into a pace line and kept rotating it every couple minutes, with Kristen taking a guiding role. I think we averaged 15mph through this leg, as it was mostly on paved road, and we caught our crew just waking up as we pulled up at breakfast time in Big Timber. I always have food on my mind, and I felt like I was eating twice as much as everyone else. Food is good. I also grabbed a couple more of my pre-made 12 hour food bags for the next two legs to take with me, as we are going to have another unmanned bike-to-hike transition this time.

Leg 8: Big Timber to Crazy Mountains -- Bike (20 miles, 2 hours)
This leg is short, but then we hit an unmanned TA where we drop our bikes and then trek from there, so we bring all of our trekking gear and food for crossing the Crazy Mountains. I let JD navigate as I did not have my map board set up. I discovered, however, that his map and compass navigation were less reliable than his hunter/tracker/route finding skills. We had cycle computers and I measured a turnoff to be approximately six miles away. At 6.3 miles, I asked him if he knew where we are, as there was a side road that might be our turn (it was). He said we should continue on. After 8 miles, he was still looking for Hwy 23 (we passed this road one mile after we left the previous trailhead) and Hwy 25 (this road goes off the spur road we are looking for rather than the main road). Looking at the map now, I think that the 23 and 25 on the map are section numbers rather than highways in any case. He gave me the map, but kept biking, as he said he cannot stop. I discovered where we were and caught up with him and the group. Luckily, the spur road is a loop, and we could go in from the other side (a quarter mile from where we finally stopped), so we didn’t lose much time. I’ll let Dave navigate the next bike section, however, if he can stop puking.

Leg 9: Crazy Mountains – Trek (32 miles, 18 hours)

We transitioned to the trek at high noon on 6/26, now three days into the race. Dave had mentioned that Chris Caul had gotten lost in the Crazy Mountains during pre-race reconnaissance, which is why he created a GPS rule that allowed teams to carry a GPS in a sealed pouch in case they got lost. If a team opened the pouch and used the GPS, however, they would suffer a severe penalty. Luckily, we were never in such a dire position that the choice came up.

So, I was expecting the Crazy Mountains to be a difficult navigation problem. However, the first half of the Crazy Mountain trek was a nice easy trail up a river valley. We worked our way up to a steep snow covered pass (9800’) and dropped over a pass into another valley, then followed this valley down. The trail itself was hard to follow, but the valley only went one way, and the only difficulty was crossing the creek to make sure we did not get stuck on the wrong side of it. At the bottom of the South Fork valley, we then had to head up the Middle Fork to another pass. Both Dave and I were really feeling bonked at this point, but with only a couple hours of light left, we wanted to get to the next CP before dark. In retrospect, we should have taken a small nap.
We headed up the Middle Fork to Moose Lake. It was not obvious where the trail crossed the creek (no bridges, of course), so we continued up the “wrong” side of the creek waiting for an appropriate opportunity. Nothing showed up until we were all the way to Moose Lake. At this point, I think we were all slipping into the stupid phase. Dave and JD decided that they were going to build a bridge across the creek right at the entrance to Moose Lake (think “cabin incident”) using logs they found. I suggested taking off our shoes and socks and wading across, as the creek was only a foot deep. Kristen sat on the shore and said that we all weren’t listening to each other. I had my shoes and socks half off when Dave got a large log out to make the bridge, so I stopped to see if their plan was not so hare-brained after all. He dropped it into the creek and it floated down the creek. I waded across the river and started putting my shoes back on, telling them how easy and quick it was. Kristen waded across without taking her shoes off, still mentioning how we weren’t working as a team. JD got his feet wet as well, while Dave took his shoes/socks off and kept them dry. Meanwhile, JD was saying how we should have cut up an earlier side valley leading up to CP. I was still fixated on staying on the trail that went past Moose Lake (although it was under snow) as that was the required route. I told JD and Kristen to go ahead and see if they could find the trail while Dave put on his shoes. When Dave was ready to go, they were nowhere to be found and I did not see their tracks in the snow (there were lots of bare spots around the lake). Stupid. I yelled for them, and we eventually found them. We found some tracks in the snow and followed them. I read the map the wrong way and headed up and over a rise instead of contouring around it to the CP. When we were at the top looking down at the other lake we wanted to be at, I got all confused as to where I was, so I let JD take over, who then guided us to the right spot. This was the only time in the race where I got really confused, and I think it was all due to falling into a deep stupid funk. It was obvious that our team dynamic was breaking down as well.

We got to the CP just after dark to find it hanging over a stream with the punch missing. We wrote our name on it and continued on. I had surveyed the mountains around us as the sun was setting to get an image of what pass we were heading for. There was a team a little ahead of us and another one a little behind us at this point. We traversed up to the pass following the footprints of the people ahead of us in the snow. We caught up with them, as they were mulling aimlessly around up by the 9600’ summit, unsure where to go from there. I followed the snow onto a scree field around to the west side of the summit, where we crossed a steep snowfield to make the 9500’ pass on the other side. From there, we hooked a right down a ridge, and then dropped off it into Trespass Creek valley. I felt good knowing where to go and how to get us through the pass, and we had passed another team. Heading down Trespass Creek valley, JD got annoyed that I still kept pulling my compass out all the time and looking at the map, even though at this point we were following a cattle path of tracks down the valley and the valley only went one way. I let him take over, and he got us moving much faster than I had been. We got onto the wrong side of the river from where the trail was supposed to be (it was all under snow) and not knowing if we would hit a side river that was uncrossable, we found a way to ford the creek to the correct side, then kept heading down river. We were zombies by the time we hit Cottonwood Creek road, and I would forget what was on the map seconds after I looked at it, so I spent all my effort ensuring that we were still going in the right direction. The road continued on and on and on, and we were all in pain when we finally struggled into TA 9 just after dawn. Pain became a common theme on our treks.

Leg 10: Crazy Mountains to Bridger Range -- Bike (96 miles, 12 hours)

Another century ride. This one took us out to the highway, then up the highway to Ringling, then down a dirt road through a canyon to the Bridgers. I really enjoyed the canyon, and the rolling downhill rides made me feel really fast. The uphills put me in my place, however, as I was the slowest on this leg. I surprised her when I told her that I had never biked more than 50 miles at a time before this. Kristen gave me some biking tips and a few pushes along the way to encourage me, and we made it up and over Bridger Pass. She rode up the hills like they weren’t even there. We decided to take a shortcut off the main highway which was a little shorter, but in retrospect, was probably a much more difficult route, as it was a long climb up a dirt road and then an equally long descent to the TA. We stopped at a farm house a filled up with water at their pump, which we really needed at that point. Going down Rocky Mountain road after the long climb was a real treat, and JD and I managed to clock a maximum speed of 38 mph on our cyclocomputers. Sweet!

Leg 11: Bridger Ridge – Trek (37 miles, 18 hours)

Our crew informed us that team Nike had done this trek in 12 hours during the day, and that Merril had done it in 20 hours at night. Dave and Kristen thought we should do this section in the day. We slept for a couple hours and left about midnight, as we expected to take five hours to reach the ridge top. We followed an ATV trail up to the right that never connected back to the main trail, and then we spent an extra hour bushwhacking our way back down to the creek. The trail up was indiscernible in many spots, and we criss-crossed the creek several times trying to follow it. Side streams came from everywhere. We eventually made the ridge five hours later, as promised, although we could have done it a little faster in daylight. We took a 20 minute nap at the top and headed down along the trail below the ridge, which definitely had a tricky start. We saw another group that had bivvied up near Sacagawea Peak who had been wandering around in the dark up there the previous night trying to find the high route. I don’t think there is a high route for the first half of the trek. Half way along the ridge, we round Ross Peak and now have the option of taking the high ridge route or the lower route that has a lot more up and down and more distance. Dave was feeling nauseous and we were both worried about his possible altitude sickness and worried about water up on top of Bridger Ridge (snow was the only option for the full day up there), so we went with the low route. The low route was long and arduous. Each trek seems to take more and more of a toll on us.

We finally got off Bridger Ridge, and then we had to walk 5km into Bozeman to a park at a lake. It is amazing how arduous a walk along the highway can be after 18 hours of trekking on little sleep. We had been struggling the whole time to get to the “M” trailhead, but mentally, we just weren’t ready to have to walk back into town. In any case, we got to TA 11 to find that we were in 8th place. One team ahead of us was helicoptered off Bridger Ridge after one of their team was incapacitated due to injury. Another team got disqualified (I think it was the team that kept getting lost earlier) after they got split up and one of their teammates headed back to the previous TA while the other went on. Another team, which was already unranked due to losing one member (you can drop a teammate while at a TA and still continue as a team of three, albeit unranked) decided to throw in the towel due to the unnecessary wear and tear on themselves. Not to mention, we passed the team that had camped on Sacagawea Peak the previous night.

Leg 12: Bozeman to Shenango – Bike (50 miles, 7 hours)
We got another good solid sleep. Kristen mentions that she has never slept so much during a race in her life, and she has a hard time sleeping for much more than a couple hours at a time. In any case, I need my sleep, and I think that we are doing well because of it.

We bike out of Bozeman. Navigating country roads in the dark is a little trickier than it seems, but we never stopped for more than a minute, and we eventually found the trailhead up to Little Bear Cabin, where we passed another team that had started out an hour ahead of us. They might have had some bike trouble, but I also like to think that they were wandering around in the dark for a bit while we were sleeping. This race is definitely a war of attrition. We made it through the night with no problems, and we even enjoyed a little double track on the way down that is fast and fun. JD was racing and jumping rocks, which made Kristen frown, and she frowned even more when he got a flat. While we are repairing the flat, another team passed us. We caught up with them at the bottom and were racing them back to the TA, at which point I commited a folly which I will call the “Miles Stupid Flying Bike Trick Incident”.

My bike is really fast and fun, and I was ahead of both my team and the other team. When I looked back to see if my team was with me, I could not quite figure out who was who. While concentrating on looking back, I turned my wheel and steered myself off the road. I felt my bike slipping off the side of the road into the ditch and I hit the brakes, hard.

At this point I found myself doing a 180 degree flip in two directions simultaneously, and I took a flying crash into some bushes along the side of the road. I am very lucky that bushes broke my fall, and that I did not injure myself or my bike. I rolled out of the bushes, grabbed my bike, and (perhaps foolishly) caught the other team again, but Kristen started yelling at me to slow down, as we were not in a sprint to the finish. She was understandably freaked, as she has been a bike racer for many years and has seen her share of horrible accidents. I and my bike were fine; even the map board and the helmet light were in perfect condition. Very lucky. And I need to learn to bike in a straight line.

Leg 13 Climb / Orienteer / Rappel (10 miles, 15.5 hours)

We headed out for the climb on a beautiful morning. So far, the weather has been really nice, with only one thunderstorm and another brief shower. The first part of the climb was the free climb, which Kristen was apprehensive about. She used the rope as a crutch in spots, and the volunteers looked the other way as she hauled herself over the really difficult spots by pulling up on the rope itself. After that we tackled several pitches of mechanical ascending. I realized that JD was having some problems when I came up behind him and found him hanging half way up a free hanging ascent. Apparently, he did not have his ascenders set up correctly, and when he went to hang on his upper ascender, he was actually hanging on his lower one. This required him to pull his weight up with his arms to move the lower ascender up. He had apparently been doing this for a few moderate pitches, but now that he was on an ascent in which he could not use his feet to push off the rock, he had come to a grinding halt and had collapsed in exhaustion halfway up the pitch. Du-oh!
As our team all has to use the same rope, I sat there waiting while JD rested for what seemed like five minutes. I watched him and talked with him and eventually diagnosed his problem and told him that his upper lanyard was way too long. With climbing volunteers looking worried, JD unclipped his upper ascender and fixed the problem. There was really not much else he could do at that point. The climbing volunteer muttered something about still having two points of contact (one being the backup absorbica that we were required to use) and looked away.
Back in business, we continued to the top, although JD was physically wiped out at this point. However, when helicopters came by with the camera crews, he perked right up and marched up the rope with zeal. Once the helicopter flew back over the ridge, he collapsed again to catch his breath.
At the top is a hand line that runs across the top of the fin, catching us some air beneath our feet. Kristen had mentioned her fear of heights, so when she broke down saying she couldn’t do it and couldn’t go on, I was somewhat prepared to talk her through it and keep her moving. We took a while, but we all made it to the top. Game on.

Between the climb and the rappel was an optional orienteering section. Each orienteering PP (punch point) we got was worth an extra bonus hour, and two of them were worth two hours (I was not informed which two, however – oops!) for a total of twelve possible extra hours. For the people watching on the web from back home, this was why we wandered up a really tall mountain while everyone else went around it. Only we and Nike cleared all of the orienteering points. We dispatched the ones on top of Garnet Mountain with ease, getting them in an average of 30 minutes apiece. PP5 was definitely tricky. Dave found a spot where he could see a rocky outcropping above the trees, and then directed me by voice as I wandered through the forest towards it. There were actually three outcroppings, and the PP was between the three.
Stoked at our adeptness, we decided to get all of the PPs on the other side of Storm Castle Creek as well. This was likely a mistake, as it was getting dark and there was a lot of bushwhacking involved with these, but we had not really thought about alternatives as to how to get to the top of the rappel. We headed up Purdy Creek drainage by Storm Castle and over the top, getting there as the sun set. We wondered about the ½ mile barrier around Storm Castle peak being prohibited and tried to comply with that rule. I noticed that Nike went up the trail almost all the way to the peak, so I am unsure of whether we are supposed to read between the lines and ignore some of the prohibitions that are not clearly stated (i.e. it did not say a half mile radius, for example, just a half mile barrier).
We spread out going down through the forest to a logging road and found the first PP, then headed over to a short ridge where we hoped to find the next one. We came to the high point, a small knoll on which there were two trees, but the PP was not there. We knew we were in the right spot, so we moved on, planning to report it missing. If it was 100 feet off the knoll and we missed it in the dark, that was my fault. We dropped down through the trees to intersect some logging roads, and eventually located ourselves fairly reliably. We dropped down a clear cut to another logging road and tried to find the next PP on a small spur off a high point. Dave and I went at it from the side, but could not find it. We were just wandering in the woods. We went at it from the high point briefly, but also did not see the spur. Eventually, we gave up, and went back to JD and Kristen, who were sitting by the logging road. JD gave it a try, and he located the spur by looking for the spur rather than for a compass direction, and followed it down to the PP. He scored us a bonus hour due to his tracking skills. After that, we dropped down to the Shenango Creek and following the creek down to the last PP, which was fairly well hidden along the creek. Kristen took a slip into the creek, so we stopped to get her into dry clothes. Then we went to find the rappel. How hard could that be after finding all these orienteering markers? We wandered up into the general right area, but after an hour of wandering, I felt like we should just sleep instead of wandering above steep bluffs in the middle of the night without direction. It was a difficult decision to make as we could see the lights of the TA down below us. I got us to stop and set up the tent. Kristen had fallen asleep and was snoring peacefully, so I threw the sleeping bag over her (I should have woken her and moved her into the tent). Dave and JD slept in the tent, and I put on my warm clothes and enjoyed a nice nap in my bivy bag. I think I was the warmest and driest and didn’t realize that the others were cold and wet – In hindsight, I probably should have done more to get them to change into all warm dry clothes and have all three of them stay in the tent together. We slept for two hours, and when we got up at dawn, we could spot the rappel site a quarter mile away on the next bluff. After a quick rappel down, we were eating a cold dinner back at the RV and taking another quick nap.

Leg 14: Indian Ridge to Ennis Lake – Trek from Hell (34 miles, 18 hours)
From Shenango, we got driven across the highway a mile to the Indian Creek trailhead and headed out at 9am or so. Indian Ridge does not have much water for a while, so when we hit snow, we used it to eat or cool off in the heat of the day. At 8700’, we turned off and headed down the ridge along Hell Roaring Creek. Dave’s wife Eloise said that she on the web as several teams missed this turn and spent hours heading up the wrong ridge, and her heart rate went up as our team got closer and closer to the turn (each team had a Spot tracker that posted its location on the web). We made the correct turn, to her relief, and on to CP 29 at Spanish Creek. Meanwhile, JD is eating M&Ms and other small candies that he finds on the trail. This is one of his eccentricities. Teams ahead of us must be dribbling food out of their packs or something. We arrived about 2:30pm on 6/30, but we were only one third of the way done. We continued on into Cowboys Heaven area, which was a beautiful, magical place. I would really like to go back there when I am not sleep-deprived. We joined up with another team that kept us going at a faster pace than we normally would have gone. The trail was good for a while, but as we continued along, more blowdown appeared, game tracks wandered off to each side and the trail got fainter. The team that we were following stopped to look at the map, and I realized that there was only 20 minutes until sundown and I had not been keeping track of where we were, as I was just trying to keep up with the people ahead of me. After a quick introduction, I worked with the other navigator to come up with a guess of where we were, and we headed off quickly to find the trail again while we could still see terrain features through the trees. Just as the sun went down, we located the trail, which jumped over a short ridge and up another valley. Working together, we followed the trail up to its end. Here, the passport directions told us to follow flagging to another trail 1 km away. It helped to have a group of eight of us, as finding a small piece of flagging in the dark is not easy, and after a few false starts, we got going down a forest road that seemed to be taking us in somewhat of the wrong direction, but later on, the flagging directed us to an unmapped trail into the woods that eventually connected up with the trail that would take us down to Ennis Lake. JD had Dave on tow now, and Dave looked like a marionette, getting jerked along. And Kristen felt like she was walking on daggers, but kept hiking.

After reaching the last crest, we thought that the 2400 foot downhill would be a relief, but it just got more painful. It went on and on. JD raced ahead, pulling Dave, following faint tracks. I tried to keep Kristen’s headlight behind me and JD’s in front of me both in sight. We left the other team behind us when they stopped to look at their map. I had our team’s map but felt helpless, as I was just racing to keep up. Kristen’s temper was rising as she was feeling left behind. JD was in “grind it out and get us off the hill mode”. I was upset that I did not know where we were any more. The lights shining up at us from around Ennis Lake were disorienting and also a bit deceiving, as we later realized. We had to rely on JD getting us to the right spot, and in the end, we came out right at the trailhead we were supposed to be at. We were all getting on edge, though. Once we got to the trailhead, we had to walk 5 km to the TA at Meadow Lake Campground. It was the longest 5km of my life, and it was on a flat road. We were all hurting at our limit. We made it to the TA. We had only a 35 mile bike ride to the finish line. Time to take a nap.

Leg 15: Ennis Lake to Big Sky – Bike (30 miles, 3.5 hours)
I was worried about Dave, as he looked like a complete zombie coming off the mountain, but after an hour nap, we all looked like we could go again. Our crew was trying to make sense of how we were doing position-wise and get us going. We had scored 12 bonus hours in the orienteering and so were ahead of one or more teams ahead of us, but by how much we didn’t really know. As we headed out on the bikes, we were all getting a slow start. I think that this was a very emotional time for all of us. I was realizing the sense of accomplishment that we were about to finish. The sun was just rising, the animals were out, and the world was beautiful. And we were a ragtag team that was thrown together, had not even met each other, and here we were at the edge of the top 10. Dave had battled nausea for most of the race and was digging deep into his reserves. Kristen was in pain and had even threatened to quit the night before, which was her own way of coping, I suppose (I assumed she didn’t mean it, and if she mentioned it again after we took a nap, I would have slapped her silly). JD was completely exhausted, and yet was still the rope gun with the tow belt. He does not seem to give up, ever. I felt like we were almost ready to fall apart and yet at the same time we were on the brink of our biggest accomplishment ever. We worked our way up the long ascent to Big Sky. Dave lost his temper with Kristen. Kristen was upset with JD. I don’t know what they were saying about me, but this race rips off all the fluffy feel-good part of your character and exposes a raw blistered core. Only a couple more hours. Finally, we get onto the main road where a vehicle waited to escort us in style to the finish line at Big Sky a few minutes away. We rode across the line together as a team and our crew was waiting to congratulate us. Well done, everybody!