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...