Thursday, September 15, 2011

Plain 100 Trail Run

I made a difficult decision not to go run the Hardrock 100 mile trail run this year, after training for months and sleeping in an altitude tent for a week and a half. The day before I was to leave to head out to Colorado, Kathy's midwife told her that she could give birth "possibly this week", and so I stayed at home waiting for Zachary to be born a week and a half later. I could have made it back in time, but I have no regrets. Races come every year, and children only come... hopefully less often than that. Besides, it is extremely difficult to run 100 miles when all you want to do is head back home as quick as possible.

Instead, I signed up for the Plain 100 trail run on September 10th. Christi Masi said that she wanted to run it, so I agreed to run with her. That way, I wouldn't feel the pressure to run too fast, and my pathetic lack of training after Zach was born would be less apparent. Also, the race director doesn't allow pacers, so it would be awfully lonely running 100 miles by myself; I'd much rather spend 32 hours visiting with a friend.

Christi had just started a new job and could not make it out to the pre-race meeting, so I took notes. Note: attending this meeting is very important, as the RD mentioned a couple key turns that were not well described in the course description, and he also provided a "water map" from which I copied onto my GreenTrails map all the locations where water was available. This information proved to be invaluable, as the temperature hit 96 degrees in Plain on Saturday.

Christi arrived dramatically: her husband flew her up from Seattle and they landed at the airstrip next to the Rec Center where we were having our meeting. Noone had seen a plane land here before, as the short grass runway allowed only certain types of small planes to land.

Note: the Rec Center has awful, sulfury water. Don't expect to use the water at the Rec Center. Also, don't plan on sleeping inside the Rec Center, as the volunteers who make breakfast arrive awfully early to set up.

We camped outside the Rec Center at the edge of the airstrip and woke up at 3:30am to grab a pancake breakfast (thanks, volunteers!) and drive several miles over to the start line at Deep Creek. The race started at 5am.

The race consists of two loops, with only one aid station back at Deep Creek after we have finished the first loop. Christi and I planned to carry 16-20 hours of food with us and fill up with water at creeks and streams along the way. We planned to run as slow as we could on the first loop so as to have the will and the means to finish the second loop.

We started the race by running down the road to Thousand Oaks Lodge and back up to Deep Creek, because the RD wanted to keep the race the same even though that start location had changed from previous years. However, the Plain 100 is already 107 miles, so I would seriously consider eliminate this 3 mile section. Running an out-and-back on a dusty road is not my idea of fun, but the Plain 100 is not supposed to be "fun". It is "just plain tough". And it was. All of it.

We started faster than we wanted to, but it was hard to moderate ourselves when other people were around. After the first couple hours or so, we fell into a comfortable rhythm. Even the speed-walking was strenuous on some of the steeper sections, and the day warmed up pretty quickly. By this time we were on our own, and it was nice to have company.

I'd like to say more about the trails, but I'm not sure how to really enliven them. There was a fair amount of dust, and a lot of mind-numbing switchbacks. Many of the trails were ORV trails, and we saw several motorcycles throughout the day on Saturday. For the most part, the trails were not too rocky, but the dust did seep into our shoes and collect in pockets in our socks, so we occasionally would stop to knock the dust out and relieve the hotspots that formed on our feet. We spent a lot of time trying to make sure that we did not get blisters, which I did anyways, but at least they never became disabling. Our goal was "don't do anything that prevents you from finishing".

We had nice views at Klone Peak, at mile 19 our so and the high point along the route (6820').
The race directors were there to wish us on, having run 9 miles or so up from a drive-in checkpoint where we would later see them in loop 2. We also had a really nice time down at Tommy Creek (mile 33) where we waded into the creek and relaxed by the pool before the terrible climb back up and over Tyee Ridge in the afternoon heat. We loaded up on water here but we still ran out. Luckily we found the seep near Signal Peak and could refill with water before we headed back down to Cougar and Mad Creek. Christi did not drink enough and got somewhat dehydrated (as evidenced by brown pee), but she caught up later in the day and bounced back without any adverse effects.

The trail down Billy Creek was overgrown and rocky. I'm glad we did not have to do that part at night. Night fell as we finished our hike back up Mad Creek. At a brief stop I started to shiver, more due to my poor control over my body temperature than to the weather. We finally made it back to Maverick Saddle and followed the logging roads back to Deep Creek, arriving at 9:45pm or so, 16 hours and 45 minutes after we started.

At Deep Creek aid station, we received the best treatment ever. We relaxed in camp chairs at Deep Creek while the volunteers knocked the dust out of our shoes and then gave us each a
foot bath while we were waiting for our soup and grilled cheese sandwiches to be ready. They even held my toes apart for me while I wrapped new layers of tape onto my dust-streaked toes in preparation for the second loop. That was the best aid station I've ever been at, even though we were promised "no aid".

After a sufficient break, we headed out for the second half of the race, a slightly shorter and less technical lollipop loop than the first half (47 miles vs. 60 miles on the first loop). My pack was full of extra food, clothes and gear, as my only concern was to have what it took to finish rather than to finish fast. Christi had recovered from her dehydration and was ready to "run a 50 miler". Off we went, up the winding singletrack, which we had traveled down at the end of the Plain Trioba Adventure Race the other year, so it was somewhat, eerily familiar. Exactly two hours later, we passed the Alder Creek turn-off that we would come back on hours later.

We took it easy through the night and made slow, steady progress. When I got sleepy, we took a five minute nap. An hour later, we passed a runner in front of us who was filling up her water. Betsy Kalmeyer was suffering from blisters and moving slowly. I feel for her, as my feet had been complaining off and on for most of the race, but extra layers of Leukotape seemed to have kept them at bay.

Just before dawn, we pulled into the Chickamin Tie check point and said our hellos to the race directors, who were here cheering us on. A note about check points: the several check points along the race course are for Search and Rescue to keep track of where we are, but have no aid. They will not even give us water unless we disqualify ourselves from the race. It's nice to see a smiling face every now and then, however. We readied ourselves to finish our last big climb before the heat of the new day.

Once we passed Mad Lake, we were ready to tackle the downhills. The motorcycles were starting to appear again, and we passed several groups on our way down Alder Creek trail.
Even the downhills are hard, with mind-numbing switchbacks bolstered by latticed concrete blocks around the curves to prevent erosion due to the ORV traffic. We ran an asphalt road for a mile or two, which turned out to be one of the harder sections on our tender feet for some reason. We arrived at the bottom at 11:08 am, just over 30 hours after we had started, having run 100 miles already. Seven more miles to go.

The last seven miles took us two hours on our way out in the middle of the night. I thought that we could return quicker, however, and finish in under 32 hours. I started to pick up the pace, running some of the shallow uphills. Christi kept up, but was only mildly interested in racing to the finish. A tendon in my ankle started to flare up and hurt with every step. We decided to take it easy, and the miles slipped by. We popped out at Deer Creek before we knew it, and finished in 31:55, comfortably under our goal. I was ready to be done.

Christi finished as the first woman, and won a chunk of granite with "Plain 100 - first woman" painted on it. I was glad to just finish and nurse my wounds.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Whidbey Island Kayak Circumnavigation

After our failed attempt last year (Whidbey Island Circumnavigation: Take 1), Andrew and I planned ahead to make sure that the currents would be work well with us for our next attempt. We scheduled it months ahead of time for May 21st, but after some last minute changes (weather was going to deteriorate, Andrew's mother-in-law was in the hospital and could get worse any day), we decided to make an attempt on Whidbey for Friday, May 20th. Despite our months of planning, however, Andrew and I managed to put in a total of two hours of kayak training between us for the calendar year, so we hoped to rely on our grzzled determination and penchant for misery. Luckily, the weather report for Friday said that morning winds would be light, although possible 15-25 mph northwest winds were predicted to pick up in the afternoon. We planned to be through Deception Pass by the afternoon, protected by Whidbey Island and heading south, so the forecast looked good.

Andrew's wife, Jen, drove us to Mukilteo to launch or boat, as there was no all day/all night parking (maybe on a Sunday we could have parked somewhere?). Andrew and I launched from the boat ramp just south of the ferry terminal at 6:30, exactly at the slack before the ebb current in Admiralty Inlet. Using our GPS units, we found that we could keep up a 10km/hr speed as we headed down around Possession Point to catch the strong ebb flow up the west side of Whidbey. Catching the correct current is a key part of making this voyage fun. An hour later, we passed Possession Point and started to speed up as the current picked up carrying us north. Rhinoceros auklets bounced in the currents around us, and pacific loons dove for their breakfast.

By 10:30 am, we pass Port Townsend. I think that a great trip would be to kayak from Edmonds or Mukilteo to Port Townsend on the ebb, have lunch, then catch the flood back home. You can travel the 30 mile one-way trip in about four hours, as we had done this morning. The mountains are out today, both the Olympics to the west, and the Cascades to the east.

Another hour or so brings us to Point Partridge, the end of our ebb boost. From here to Deception Pass, the currents are less well defined, and our last attempt left us struggling against unexpectedly large currents against us. Today, we are slow, but still moving at a reasonable 8km/hr. As we pass Whidbey Naval Air Station, we watch them launching every plane they have, one after another. The planes bank into a turn only a few hundred feet above us and make a circle back to the base. Pigeon guillemots also practice their flight drills here on the north half of the island.

We enter Deception Pass at 2:45pm, just before maximum flood. Currents through the pass are 6+ knots today. Andrew wants me to aim for the good stuff, but I am steering and try to stay in the flat deep water; however, after we get through the pass, the merging, shifting waters zig zag across each other and we cannot help but jump a few eddy lines and bash through a dinner plate sized whirlpool here and there. I recall that I wanted to kayak through Deception Pass at midnight in one of our pre-planning scenarios, and I am now glad to have rejected that idea. Going through the pass at maximum flood even with the current would be a little scary if you couldn't see the eddy lines, whirlpools and boils that form as the water rushes through the narrow gap here at the north end of the island.

The current is varied but mostly strong, especially as we scoot pass Hope Island and into Skagit Bay. We stay to the right side of the bay, as the water to the left side is deceptively shallow and drains away leaving only mud flats at low tide. Our favorable current peters away. We are quite optimistic, as we have only 55 kilometers to go and we have been on the water for only 10 hours. At this rate, we will be done barely after dark.

Then the wind picks up, and the current seems to turn against us. Our GPS units read dismal numbers. Are we really only going 5km/hr, in a double kayak? We attempt to cross from Strawberry Point to Utsalady, and we are now only going 3km/hr. We suspect that demons are at work. Last year, we bailed out at Utsalady after several demoralizing hours battlng currents against us through the pass and afterwards; somehow, the Utsalady curse is out to grab us and hold us back again. We are determined to push on, but it is almost as if a wall is in the way. Andrew and I both stop paddling, and then I mention that our GPS now says that we are going faster. Andrew says "Great!", but after thinking for a second, he groans. We are going faster, but backwards.

After an interminable time, we reach Utsalady Point and pull off onto the beach. Our rosy optimism is dashed. Andrew turns on the weather radio and gets conflicting reports. Winds from the south, maybe the north. Small craft advisory. Winds picking up. Is the deteriorating weather already moving in? A large halo glimmers around the sun, suggesting rain in 12 to 24 hours.

Utsalady is the easiest spot to get picked up if we need to get rescued again, and we both silently think about whether we can make it through the night should conditions keep deteriorating. Rocky Point is not too far away, so we decide to look around the corner and see if things are a little better on the west side of Camano Island. We can always come back.

On the water again after a 20 minute break, we discover that kayaking is a little easier, and already we are making better time. It's as if Utsalady has lost her grip on us, and we escape around the corner. Our speed goes up to 7 or 8 km/hr, and while not fast, we feel that we can finish. The closer that we get to Mukilteo, the more we will start picking up the evening ebb. Game on.

The sun goes down. I begin to realize that my headlamp is not very adequate. Andrew has a good headlamp, and he is in front to light the way. I have two lights on my PFD (one - the DoubleFly - also doubles as a strobe), which I turn on. One will later die due to lack of batteries, along with my less than waterproof headlamp, so I'm glad I backed up my lack of preparation with extra redundancy. I've forgotten to familiarize myself with the navigation lights, but Andrew is on top of things. We look for the red and green lights to guide us down the channel. How far away are they? Night time is a little disorienting.

One green light is not on the chart, but it is right in the middle of a group of lights on the shore. Two minutes later, it is much further north than the lights on the shore. That's odd. Just about the time that I realize that it is the starboard light on a boat that is a couple hundred yards away, the boat shines a spotlight on us. The crew is curious what the small headlamp in the water is. We watch the tugboat go by and I wonder if it is pulling a barge behind it. I know that tugboats pulling barges must show a specific set of lights, but I don't know what it is. I should have studied. In any case, we decide to steer wide. It is very, very dark out. The wind start to pick up.

As we round Sandy Point, the wind is strong at our back and getting stronger. Our kayak starts to surf, and I feel as if I cannot turn it appropriately. I really don't like the steering system on our kayak, which involves a rotating pedal system rather than the old sliding pedals. When our kayak is getting thrown around by waves, I really cannot tell what position the rudder is in, and I feel like I cannot respond adequately. Also, when I press hard on both pedals (which happens when I start to get in bigger wind waves), I think that the tension straps start to loosen, which causes the rudder to become harder to control. A wave picks up the back of our kayak and swings it sideways. I am not too happy. Andrew wants to run the kayak straight down the channel, as we can see Mukilteo now in the distance. The small craft advisory lingers in my mind as I turn us towards the Whidbey shoreline instead. Being near the shoreline is more comforting after midnight, I am leery of getting caught in mid-channel with a squall approaching (which never comes). Better safe than sorry.

As we approach the Clinton ferry terminal, we can see that the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry is still running. The wind has died down again, and we cross the 3.5 mile channel, aiming north of where the ferry landed in order to counteract any ebb current. Our eyes start playing weird tricks on us. Both of us see a giant breakwater sticking out from Mukilteo (which are actually just lights on the shoreline), and I look back to see the Clinton ferry terminal a hundred yards behind us (when it was actually probably a mile away). We try to identify other bright lights along the shoreline and are invariably wrong about what we see. Kayaking at night is a very different experience. The ferry leaves Mukilteo again, eliminating the last obstacle to a successful landing. We land on the beach just south of the ferry terminal at 1:20am, 18 hours and 50 minutes after we started, and 92 miles of paddling later.

With our sweet success came a sadness. Andrew had been on the phone with his wife many times throughout the trip, to hear that her mother was deteriorating throughout the day. Her mother passed away twenty minutes before Andrew and I arrived back at the beach in Mukilteo. I'm sad that he couldn't be there. I'm very thankful that Jen helped support our trip today on a day that she was suffering more than we were, and my thoughts are with her.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Moab Wedding

Although Kathy and I got legally married in January in Hawaii, we wanted to
give our family the chance to celebrate with us, so we arranged a wedding
celebration on March 26th in Moab. I went out to Moab early to get a few days
of mountain biking in before all the familes arrived and the big day.Kathy's family and my family enjoyed
getting together and meeting each other for the first time and we had several chances to mingle and socialize. We held our ceremony at Red Cliffs Lodge right along the Colorado River. Although we braved some rain and snow earlier in the week, the weather held out for a somewhat cool yet dry wedding. Everyone was happy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 Training Summary

Summary of 2010 training (from attackpoint)
Running+Hiking = 2000 miles / 250,000 vertical feet.
Lots of kayaking this past year, due mostly to Yukon River Race.
Not as hard-core as last year, but still pretty reasonable.




320:15:21 1789.08


134:36:00 747.81


130:25:00 236.45


94:06:00 1203.2


Mtn Biking
53:45:15 310.58


46:35:42 131.5


42:23:00 63.25




30:00 2.0


845:06:18 4483.88


Totals: 845:06 hours 4483.88 miles 383416 vertical feet